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Election '96: Tasmanian Greens Leader discusses the resignation of Greg Sargent from the Wilderness Society and assesses the differences between the major parties

ELLEN FANNING: Now to the Greens Leader, Dr Bob Brown; he's in our Hobart studio this morning. Firstly, if we could talk about that resignation of the Cape York campaigner for the Wilderness Society, in your mind what does that indicate about the divisions within the conservation movement over the Coalition's environment package?

BOB BROWN: Well, it really indicates the shortcomings of the Government as well as the Coalition when it gets to the environment. They've both said they're going to put large amounts of money into repair, but they've been both short on the protection side, with one exception of great moment and that is Cape York that Greg was just talking about.

ELLEN FANNING: So you think Labor is superior on the issue of Cape York?

BOB BROWN: I do, and the vision there for Cape York becoming an indigenous wilderness of World Heritage stature is one of the most monumental land use visions that Australia could possibly have as we head towards the second millennium. And the Government has a stronger proposal on that - there's no doubt about that - than the Opposition.

ELLEN FANNING: We've just heard Mr Sargent say, as well, that he thinks that the Wilderness Society has been taken in by the Coalition.

BOB BROWN: Well, I think that the Wilderness Society, however, has been taken down by the Keating Government in a much bigger way. You see, for years the Wilderness Society has been fighting for the forests of Australia. After the log trucks surrounded Parliament House last year, Paul Keating and John Howard went weak at the knees. The Government has licensed the biggest rate of export woodchipping, clear felling, fire bombing, in our tall eucalypt forests of very ancient stature, even rainforests in Tasmania at five million tonnes per annum, going out of four States to the rubbish dumps of the northern hemisphere. It's just appalling.

ELLEN FANNING: So if you're saying the Wilderness Society has been taken in by both the Government and by the Coalition, what does that say about the image of the conservation movement, the image that it might have, by the end of this Federal election campaign?

BOB BROWN: I'm not saying they've been taken in; I'm saying they're responding to that, and they have not endorsed either party. On the forestry issue the behaviour of the Government has been appalling; on Cape York it's been quite the reverse. That means that voters have got a very hard choice indeed. And one of the things the voters have to look at is voting Green, because on both those issues we take a very strong line indeed. And the Green option is there for everybody to take this Saturday.

One of the things we want to see is the parties being open, and we're making a general call today to parties to be open before Saturday to say where their preference flows will go, because that is going to make a big difference in many marginal seats.

ELLEN FANNING: You have been critical of the way in which the Democrats are distributing their preferences. As a result of that sort of debate, how much confusion is there in the electorate about preference flows for minor parties?

BOB BROWN: Well, there is some confusion, but it's going to be worse if people don't know before Saturday and don't have time to think before they're heading for the polling booth just what the ramification of those preferences are. In Tasmania we've got the situation where the Democrats announced that they were going to pass preferences to like-minded smaller parties, but in fact the preferences have gone to the Fred Nile, the ultra right-wing group from New South Wales, before the Greens, and they've put the Women's Party last. And that can make, that could have a catastrophic outcome for the unsuspecting voter if the worst occurred and Fred Nile got a Senator up from Tasmania instead of a Green.

ELLEN FANNING: But voters will know about the possibility of that. It'll be on their how-to-vote card, won't it?

BOB BROWN: No, not necessarily. In the Senate they'll simply be given a vote Democrats or vote Green or vote Labor, Liberal, whatever, and the flow of preferences doesn't have to be on that how-to-vote card. People need to know about that because it can have very serious ramifications. And we're concerned that in Lower House seats Democrats preferences are going against the No Aircraft Noise candidate in New South Wales, against Wendy Bacon, a candidate in New South Wales for the seat of Sydney, they go to the old parties first; and against Phil Cleary in Victoria in the seat of Wills where they go to the ALP first, and against Kim Beazley in Western Australia where they go to the Liberals first, and so on. People need to think about that very carefully because it will influence the outcome of seats.

There is a lot of confusion in the electorate. We need to be honest and straight with the electorate. The Greens have been very meticulous in announcing our preferences last week in almost all seats right round the country so that people can be very clear when they're going to the electorate that they're voting for the socially and environmentally superior candidates in their seats, and those preference flows will go according to excellence in environmental and social policies.

ELLEN FANNING: All right, Dr Brown. Thank you very much for joining A.M. this morning. Bob Brown, the Greens Leader in our Hobart studio.