Bob Brown

Bob Brown

Leader of The Greens

Robert James Brown (born 27 December 1944), is an Australian Senator, the inaugural Parliamentary Leader of the Australian Greens and the first openly homosexual member of the Parliament of Australia. He created international headlines on 23 October 2003 when he was suspended from the Parliament for breaking with protocol and interjecting during an address by the visiting President of the United States, George W. Bush. Brown's Senate colleague, Kerry Nettle, was also suspended.

Bob Brown was born in Oberon, New South Wales and attended Trunkey Public School and Blacktown Boys High School, and in his senior year he was elected school captain. After graduating from high school he enrolled in medicine at Sydney University. He moved to Tasmania in 1972 and worked as a general medical 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.

In 1978 Brown was appointed director of the Tasmanian Wilderness Society. In the early 1980s 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 was elected into Tasmania's Parliament. 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, seven years before the Port Arthur Massacre 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 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 and for greenhouse abatement.

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 450 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.

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.

Despite his rather dour and humourless public manner, he is widely admired as a man of courage and conviction, even by those who disagree with him. One example of Brown at his most tolerant (as well as an indication of a dry sense of humour) is his welcoming of Fred Nile's intention to run as a Christian Democratic Party of Australia candidate for the Australian Senate in the 2004 federal election. Brown was quoted as saying "He will give the opportunity to highlight the Greens' humanitarian policies which have doubled the vote for the Greens in the last three or four years."

When President Bush visited Canberra on 23 October 2003, left-wing members of the Labor Party decided to present him with a letter setting out their opposition to the Iraq war, but not to disrupt his speech. Only Brown and Nettle took their opposition to the point of interjecting 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 has since been released), following their apprehension by United States forces in Afghanistan and Pakistan respectively. After the speech, however, Brown shook Bush's hand.

Bush accepted the interjections with good humour, but the Speaker of the House, Neil Andrew, formally "named" Brown and Nettle and they were suspended from the Parliament for 24 hours which prevented them from being present for -- and making similar interjections during -- a similar address from Chinese President Hu Jintao the next day.

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".

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.

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

Brown is due to face re-election at the 2007 federal election; should he do so successfully he would be 69 by the end of his third term. He announced his intention to stand again at the Greens National Conference in November 2005.

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. (Credit: Wikipedia)

Bob Brown official website

The Greens official website



The Greens

Environmentalists and the environment