- August 2016
- July 2016
- May 2016
- April 2016
- March 2016
- December 2015
- November 2015
- September 2015
- August 2015
- July 2015
- June 2015
- May 2015
- April 2015
- March 2015
- February 2015
- November 2014
- October 2014
- September 2014
- August 2014
- July 2014
- June 2014
- May 2014
- April 2014
- March 2014
- February 2014
- December 2013
- November 2013
- October 2013
- September 2013
- August 2013
- July 2013
- June 2013
- May 2013
- April 2013
- March 2013
- February 2013
- December 2012
- November 2012
- October 2012
- September 2012
- August 2012
- July 2012
All Is Quiet (As Christine Calls Time)
25 / 05 / 2015
This month’s lead article comes to us from Kerry-Anne Walsh, remedy writing on the Australian media’s reaction to the announcement of Christine Milne’s resignation. With 25 years experience as a journo in Canberra’s press gallery, patient Kerry-Anne’s weary cynicism is well-earned. Is it possible, she wonders, that there’s a spot of misogyny in the mix. No stranger to this subject, Kerry-Anne wrote the best-selling The Stalking of Julia Gillard, and runs her own Canberra-based media consultancy, KA Communications.
When Greens Leader Christine Milne strode into Parliament’s inner courtyard on May 6th to announce her resignation to a hungry news pack, she had a ramrod straight back and a huge smile on her face.
She looked like she’d won the lottery. Which in a sense, she had.
After 25 years of parliamentary service, Milne had taken the decision many of her parliamentary colleagues don’t have the guts to make: she was bowing out on a high, and getting a life outside parliament.
But instead of being accorded her gracious moment, standing in the chill Canberra winter sun with relief and joy plain to see, the media pack were on the hunt for the conspiracy.
It was all too quick, they decided. Not only had she resigned without them knowing, but the Party had smoothly elected a new Leader unopposed an hour after her resignation!
Hence the questions: some tinged with indignation, a few angry, many disrespectful: Was it all designed to keep Adam Bandt out of the leadership? Why hadn’t she told her Party room earlier? Why only an hour between resignation and election for new Leader? Surely you’re not all united?
Milne’s smile cracked only a little, but her composure didn’t alter. Always gracious, she tried to point out that the procedure had been no different to when Bob Brown resigned and was replaced – then, it had also been quick and smooth.
Journalists were having none of it, and the stories about her resignation reflected the sour note of the questioning. Chris Kenny, a mainstay of The Australian’s stable of right-wing male thunderclap commentators, did not disappoint by declaring the country well rid of such a “snarling, negative” leader.
Only a few journalists had anything like a decent stab at analysing Milne’s contribution to national life and her stellar political and parliamentary achievements which, no matter what political colours you wear, should be recognised as immense. Even PM Tony Abbott and Tasmanian hard man, Eric Abetz, acknowledged so.
From my days in the federal parliamentary press gallery, I recall Milne as someone who was always ready to stop in the corridors for a chat.
Genuine and always on top of her brief, she was also warm and engaging. In front of a press conference, she could come across as austere; self-defensive armour, no doubt, also donned by another besieged female political leader, Julia Gillard.
So who is the woman we heard so little about when she resigned?
Born to Tasmanian dairy farmers Tom and June Morris in 1953, convent-educated Milne studied politics and history at university before turning to teaching.
A committed environmentalist, by 1983 she’d been arrested and imprisoned for her part in the Franklin Dam blockade, and five years later led the protest against the pulp mill in the town of her birth, Wesley Vale, suffering death threats and violence.
She stood firm, and was pivotal in uniting a powerful left-right cabal of scientists, farmers, environmentalists and fishers that succeeded, against governments and powerful moneyed forces.
Her escalating community activism led her to the Tasmanian Parliament In 1989, elected by the conservative constituency of Lyons as one of five Greens who went on to hold the balance of power. She and fellow activist Di Hollister became the first female Greens ever to grace a state or federal parliament in Australia.
Milne was a key negotiator in the establishment of the Australia-first Labor-Green Accord in that parliament, which spawned the creation of new national parks, an expanded world heritage and national estate forest register, limits on wood chip exports, and freedom of information laws.
Three years later she was one of the founders of the Tasmanian Greens, which subsequently spawned the national Greens that now command seats in state parliaments, local government councils across the country, and ten powerful seats in the Senate.
She was elected Leader of the Party in 1993, becoming the first female leader of a political party in Tasmania. Her commitment to collaboration and achieving outcomes rather than playing left-right politics was again demonstrated by her forging of a Liberal-Greens alliance following the 1996 state election.
Before the two major parties colluded to kill the Greens off, the resulting alliance led to more national parks and stunning social reforms that would have been remote at best under a Liberal-only government: new gun laws following the Port Arthur massacre; gay law reform (which led to conservative federal MP Michael Hodgman, father of current Premier Will, labelling her “the mother of teenage sodomy”); and an apology to the Indigenous stolen generation – a decade before Rudd’s fanfare event in the federal parliament.
Astonishingly, the parliament even passed a motion supporting Australia becoming a republic.
Milne won a Senate seat in 2004; became the Deputy Greens Leader in 2008; and was elected Leader in 2012 following the departure of the revered Bob Brown.
Along the way, she married, had two sons, raised them largely as a single mother, and is about to become a grandmother. She has been a vice-president of the World Conservation Union, a United Nations Global 500 Laureate, and was forceful in helping re-shape a broad range of social policies in the Senate, without fuss or grandstanding.
She introduced a more collaborative style of leadership within the Greens, and successfully worked with rural Independents Rob Oakeshott and Tony Windsor to help design what would become Labor’s carbon pollution pricing scheme.
In a rare in-depth interview in 2008 inThe Monthly, Milne gave an insight into what may have forged her approach to politics during her Catholic boarding school years: “You see that bullies eventually get their comeuppance, and negotiated outcomes have to work for everyone or the system slides into greater and greater stress.”
Analysing why her announced departure from Parliament caused such shoulder shrugging is both a depressing and illuminating exercise.
For all the advances in politics, the affirmative action, and the mouthing of gender equality by male politicians, the parliamentary arena is still a male blood sport. And journalists schooled in viewing stories through the prism of two-party personality politics struggled to fit Milne into their professional worldview.
She was quiet. Conservatively dressed. Didn’t perform political party tricks, or throw wild drinks parties. She was a committed activist who didn’t truck with political artifice or aggrandising self-promotion – the blueprint for so many whose political ambitions are driven by power, not passion. So a media yawn.
And now that Milne has slipped into the background, quietly awaiting a time to depart before the next election, the leadership of all the major political parties in the federal parliament has reverted to all blokes.
Women make up 50.2% of Australia, but still constitute just 29% of state and federal Parliament. A few years ago, women were in Government House, in the Prime Ministerial suite, held the post of the country’s top legal officer, and led the Greens. Now, we hold the consolation prizes: three deputies to the blokes.
In the states and territories, four years ago women were Queensland and Tasmanian Premiers, and ACT Chief Minister. Now, only Annastasia Palaszczukin Queensland flies the flag. One step forward, three back.
Kerry-Anne Walsh worked in the federal parliamentary press gallery for 25 years, up until 2009. She wrote the best-selling The Stalking of Julia Gillard, and runs her own Canberra-based media consultancy, KA Communications.