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Senator Dr.
 Bob Brown 

Senator Brown at the Salamanca Market in Hobart (18 December 2004)

Senator for Tasmania
Assumed office 
1 July 1996
Constituency Tasmania

Born 27 December 1944 (1944-12-27) (age 65)
Oberon, NSW
Nationality Australian Australia
Political party Australian Greens

Robert James Brown (born 27 December 1944), is an Australian Senator, the inaugural Parliamentary Leader of the Australian Greens and the first openly gay member of the Parliament of Australia. Brown was elected to the Australian Senate on the Tasmanian Greens ticket joining with sitting WA Greens senator Dee Margetts to form the first Australian Greens senators following the 1996 federal election, and was re-elected in 2001 and again in 2007.

While serving in the Tasmanian parliament, Bob Brown successfully campaigned for a large increase in the protected wilderness areas. Bob Brown has led the Australian Greens during a period of growth from a party on the political fringe, to one which now polls at around 10% at state and federal level, runs candidates in every federal and almost all state and territory seats, and have won seats in six of the eight states/territories and at the federal level. During the minority Senate between 2002 and 2004, when minor parties held the balance of power, Bob Brown became a well recognised politician. Bob Brown has been known for vocal protest campaigns, which created international headlines on 23 October 2003 when he was suspended from the Parliament for interjecting during an address by the visiting President of the United States, George W. Bush.


Early life

Bob Brown was born in Oberon, New South Wales, one of twins[1] and attended Trunkey Public School and Blacktown Boys High School, and in his senior year he was elected School Captain. After graduating, he enrolled in medicine at Sydney University where he obtained an MB BS degree.

Brown moved to Tasmania in 1972 and worked as a general practitioner in Launceston. He soon became involved in the state's environmentalist movement, in particular the campaign to save Lake Pedder, and was a member of the United Tasmania Group in 1972, Australia's first "green" party. In a newspaper interview at this time, Brown announced he was gay.[citation needed] Brown describes himself as a "lapsed Presbyterian.[2]

State politics

In 1978 Brown was appointed director of the Tasmanian Wilderness Society. In the late 1970s he emerged as a leader of the campaign to prevent construction of the Franklin Dam, which would have drowned the Franklin River valley as part of a hydroelectricity project. Brown was among the 1500 people arrested while protesting during this campaign. He subsequently spent 19 days in Hobart's Risdon Prison. On the day of his release in 1983, Brown became a member of Tasmania's Parliament after the resignation of fellow state MP Norm Sanders; Brown was elected to replace him on a countback. [1] The Franklin campaign was a success after Federal government intervention protected the Franklin River in 1983.

During his first term of office, Brown introduced a wide range of private member's initiatives, including for Freedom of Information, Death with Dignity, lowering parliamentary salaries, gay law reform, banning the battery-hen industry and nuclear free Tasmania. His 1987 bill to ban semi-automatic guns was voted down by both Liberal and Labor members of Tasmania's House of Assembly, nine years before the Port Arthur massacre [2] resulted in a successful Federal Liberal bid to achieve the same results.

In 1989 Tasmania's system of proportional representation allowed the Greens to win five out of 35 seats in the Tasmanian House of Assembly, and Brown became their unofficial leader (at that time, the Greens did not have formal leadership positions). He agreed to support a minority Labor Party government, but this agreement broke down over forestry issues in 1992. In 1993 Brown resigned from the House of Assembly and stood unsuccessfully for the federal House of Representatives.

Brown has published several books including Wild Rivers (1983), Lake Pedder (1986), Tarkine Trails (1994), The Greens (1996) (with Peter Singer), Memo For A Saner World (2004) and Tasmania's Recherche Bay (2005). In 2004 James Norman published the first authorised biography of Brown, entitled Bob Brown: A Gentle Revolutionary. Brown lives in Hobart with his long-time partner, Paul Thomas, whom he met in 1996.

Brown was the founder, in 1990, of the Australian Bush Heritage Fund, now Bush Heritage Australia, a non-profit environmental organisation dedicated to purchasing and preserving Australian bushland. He was President of the organisation until 1996.[3]

Federal politics

Brown was elected to the Australian Senate for Tasmania in 1996, and was an outspoken voice in opposition to the conservative government of John Howard, and in support of green and human rights issues, including international issues such as Tibet, East Timor and West Papua. He also introduced bills for constitutional reform, forest protection, to block radioactive waste dumping, to ban mandatory sentencing of Aboriginal children, to prohibit the use of cluster munitions and for greenhouse abatement.

Bob Brown lays out the Green's climate change policies in the lead-up to the 2007 federal election
Bob Brown at a climate change rally in Melbourne on 5 July 2008
Labor Senator Claire Moore (left) and Bob Brown (right)
Bob Brown holding the East Turkestan flag during the 2008 Olympic Torch Relay in Canberra, Australia.

At the 2001 federal election Brown was re-elected to the Senate with a greatly increased vote, and was outspoken on Prime Minister John Howard's refusal to allow 438 asylum seekers (mostly from Afghanistan) to land on Christmas Island after they had been rescued from their sinking boat in the Indian Ocean by the MV Tampa, a Norwegian freighter. Brown was equally critical of Opposition Leader Kim Beazley's acquiescence to John Howard's stance on the Tampa incident [3].

Brown was particularly vocal in his opposition to Australian participation in the 2003 invasion of Iraq and became recognised as a leading voice for the anti-war/peace movement. When President Bush visited Canberra on 23 October 2003, Brown and fellow Senator Kerry Nettle interjected during his address to a joint sitting of the two Houses of Parliament. During Bush's speech Brown and Nettle wore signs referring to David Hicks and Mamdouh Habib, two Australian citizens held at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba at that time (Habib was later released without charge and Hicks served a prison term for providing material support for terrorism), following their apprehension by United States forces in Afghanistan and Pakistan respectively. Bush accepted the interjections with good humour but the Speaker of the House, Neil Andrew formally "named" Brown and Nettle. This meant that they were both suspended from the Parliament for 24 hours which prevented them from being present during a similar address from Chinese President Hu Jintao the next day. After the speech, however, Brown shook Bush's hand.

Brown opposed the Howard Government's amendments to the Marriage Act in 2004, stating that "Mr Howard should relax and accept gay marriages as part of the future's social fabric"[4].

In December 2004, forestry and export woodchip company Gunns Limited attempted to sue Brown and others for $6.3 million, in an action which media reports say related to "ongoing damaging campaigns and activities" against the company. The original Statement of Claim issued by Gunns was struck out by the Supreme Court and costs were awarded against Gunns for the initial proceedings. Gunns ultimately failed with the company finally dropping all claims against Brown on 13 December 2006[5] while continuing its case against others including The Wilderness Society.

Bob Brown was formally elected as the first Federal Parliamentary Leader of The Greens on 28 November 2005,[6] following almost a decade of service as de facto leader since his election to the Senate in 1996.

In February 2007, the Tasmanian State Government and the Australian Federal Government responded by changing the text of the State's Regional Forest Agreement. New clauses make it clear that the word 'protection' relates only to whether the two respective governments deem a species to be protected rather than the meaning of the word being based on actual evidence of such.

In early 2007, Brown attracted scorn from sections of the media and the major political parties for his proposal to commit to a plan within three years, that would eventually see the banning of coal exports[7]. Brown described coal exports as the "energy industry's heroin habit" and stated that the export of alternative technologies should be the priority.[8]

Brown was re-elected in the 2007 federal election. He announced his intention to stand again at the Greens National Conference in November 2005.

Following his re-election and that of the new Labor Government, Brown called on new Prime Minister Kevin Rudd to set fixed carbon targets immediately, and to announce their levels at the upcoming United Nations Bali climate change summit in December, continuing his climate campaigning, and saying that it was "obvious" what the outcome would be if Australia was to not set carbon emissions goals.[9]

In 2005, Brown brought a legal case against Forestry Tasmania in the Federal Court, in an attempt to protect Tasmania's Wielangta forest from clearfell logging. The 1997 Tasmanian Regional Forest Agreement (RFA) exempted logging operations from endangered species laws but required the protection of endangered species. Bob Brown brought a case against Forestry Tasmania citing threats to endangered species like the Swift parrot and Wielangta Stag Beetle[10]. In December 2006, Judge Shane Marshall awarded the case in Brown's favour.[11] On appeal to the full bench of the Federal Court level, the case was lost, without rejecting the earlier judgement that logging would further endanger these species. In May 2008 the High Court denied leave to appeal that decision after the wording of the RFA was changed[12].

Brown was ordered to pay $240,000 to Forestry Tasmania, which he said he could not afford to pay. Failure to pay would have resulted in bankruptcy proceedings which would have cost Brown his Senate seat[13]. Brown had earlier rejected a settlement offer from Forestry Tasmania that would have required him to have only paid $200,000 of the costs he had incurred[14]. On 9 June 2009, Australian entrepreneur Dick Smith came to Brown's rescue with a promise to bail him out[15]. Pledges for support from over 1,000 donors covered Brown's legal bill within a few days of his announcement[16].


Further reading

  • Armstrong, Lance J.E. (1997). Good God, He's Green! A History of Tasmanian Politics 1989-1996. Wahroonga, N.S.W., Pacific Law Press. ISBN 1-875192-08-5
  • Lines, William J. (2006) Patriots : defending Australia's natural heritage St. Lucia, Qld. : University of Queensland Press, 2006. ISBN 0-70223-554-7

External links

Party political offices
Preceded by
New office
Federal Parliamentary Leader of the Australian Greens
2005 - Present
Succeeded by

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