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Gerard Henderson criticises comments on terrorism by Senator Bob Brown.

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VIVIAN SCHENKER: Ever since the Democrats implosion, the Greens have enjoyed a dream run across the political landscape. Bob Brown’s party must have picked up plenty of votes from disaffected Democrats, and this Saturday they get to put their recent strong showing to a real test in the Cunningham by-election. But have contradictory statements, in relation to national security, seen the Greens stumble at a final unexpected hurdle?


Gerard Henderson is Director of the think-tank, the Sydney Institute, and he is with us now in our Sydney studio. Gerard, good morning.




VIVIAN SCHENKER: How do you think the Greens have slipped up this week?


GERARD HENDERSON: Well they certainly had a dream media run over the last six months, but I think Bob Brown has had a shocker of a week. If you just go back and look at what he said this week—and I think this needs close examination in the media.


On Saturday the 12th, when the Australian government through the Attorney-General Daryl Williams, said that there was a warning about power stations ... there was a terrorist threat to power stations, Bob Brown issued a statement saying that the Howard government was becoming a mouthpiece for the White House by promoting what he called ‘this apparent threat’. So a terrorist threat was ‘an apparent threat’. And then on the Sunday, after the murders in Bali, he said, ‘this event underscored the need for Australia to have a policy of regional defence and engagement’, and he went on to talk about both Washington and Iraq. So, intentionally or otherwise he linked this issue, both with Australia’s attitude to Washington and with our policy on Iraq, without explaining what that meant; he continued saying this on Monday. Then on the Monday he also said that the terror had clear political advantage for the White House. So what he is saying is the terrible deaths in Bali are of political advantage to the White House, which is an appallingly insensitive statement. And now, today, he has turned around—and talking to Cathy Van Extel—he is saying we must prepare ourselves against the terrorist threat, which only four days ago he said was apparent rather than real. I think that is a shocker of a week.


VIVIAN SCHENKER: A bob each way you reckon?


GERARD HENDERSON: Well, I think it is more than that. I think Bob Brown has been completely insensitive, he has been strategically unwise, and he has been quite contradictory. You can’t say on Saturday that there is an apparent terrorist threat and then on Wednesday, and again on Thursday, say we should be preparing ourselves against terrorist threats because on his own analysis they are apparent—not real.


And what surprises me is for a man who got 14 per cent of the vote in Tasmania, which is some 42,000 votes, and Kerry Nettle, his colleague in New South Wales, got 4.4 per cent of the vote, which was 169,000 votes in the last Senate election—these are not big numbers. Both Senator Brown and Senator Nettle are getting an absolutely dream media run with very few members of the media asking any questions, not even questions about the consistency of their own comments made within days of one another.


VIVIAN SCHENKER: Okay, well, you are obviously very critical of how the Greens have handled the events of the last week. What about Labor’s position and John Howard’s performance? How would you rank both of them?


GERARD HENDERSON: Well, it is difficult for the Prime Minister at the moment in the current environment; and we need to find out later about what security warnings there were. I am sympathetic to Mr Howard at this time.


In relation to Labor, I think you can say that both Simon Crean and Kevin Rudd have done well in holding the position that will survive after the Bali murders, just as it did before. Unlike the Greens, Mr Crean doesn’t have to go back and change his position; John Howard doesn’t have to go back and change his position. But Bob Brown has felt the need to change his position whilst pretending that he has been consistent. So I think both Labor and the coalition don’t really have to reassess their policies, although they have got to bring policies up to date. But as for Bob Brown and the Greens in Cunningham, I think there should be closer examination.


VIVIAN SCHENKER: Gerard, thanks again for speaking with us today.




VIVIAN SCHENKER: Gerard Henderson, Director of the Sydney Institute.