Australian rock star to run for parliament
Author: Belinda Goldsmith
Labour leader Mark Latham invited Peter Garrett, 51, to run for the party in a safe Sydney seat, all but guaranteeing him a place in parliament after the election tipped for October.
"He brings passion, conviction, energy to our cause and that's very important," said Latham, 43, a new generation leader who has reinvigorated Labour since taking over six months ago.
Garrett, an imposing figure at nearly seven feet tall (two metres) and totally bald, is known as a fierce environmental campaigner and strong critic of the United States.
His views are likely to put him on a collision course with Prime Minister John Howard's conservative government, a strong U.S. ally that sent troops to Iraq.
Polls show Labour neck-and-neck with Howard's eight-year-old government and Latham is keen to capitalise on Garrett's appeal to young and green voters. Howard, after 30 years in parliament, tends to appeal more to older, more conservative voters.
Latham has brushed aside complaints within Labor over Garrett's recruitment. Critics within centre-left Labor resent an outsider being given a ticket to parliament.
Howard, 64, who says he is facing the fight of his life to retain power this year, attacked Garrett's environmental policies.
"You don't want extreme green attitudes because extreme green attitudes are anti-investment and anti-jobs," Howard said yesterday in the west Australian city of Perth after Garrett's candidature was announced in Sydney by Latham.
Garrett, a seasoned political activist who quit Midnight Oil in 2002 after more than two decades, brushed off the criticism that he was selling out by joining Labor. He also denied media reports that he had not voted in the past three elections.
WORLD HAS CHANGED
He said the world had changed since 1984 when he was narrowly defeated for a seat in parliament's Senate, or upper house, when he ran for the Nuclear Disarmament Party.
"It's terrorism now, not nuclear disarmament," Garrett told reporters in Sydney, adding he no longer opposed the Pine Gap U.S. spy base in the Australian outback which he condemned in the song "U.S. Forces".
"The policies Labor has satisfy me that they're appropriate policies for this country to serve the national security."
Latham, who objected to the U.S-led war in Iraq, has promised to bring the 850 Australian troops home by Christmas if he wins power while Howard wants them to remain until "the job is done".
Besides security and the environment, Garrett is also at odds with the government over the sensitive issue of Aborigines.
Midnight Oil's "Beds Are Burning" song calls for reconciliation with black Australia and the band played it at the close of the Sydney 2000 Olympics.
"The time has come, a fact's a fact, it belongs to them, let's give it back," sang Garrett at the Olympics, with all the band members wearing T-shirts with the word "Sorry".
Australia's 400,000 Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders, two percent of the population, die 20 years younger than other Australians and suffer far higher rates of unemployment and alcohol and drug abuse.
Howard has refused to issue a formal apology to Aborigines for injustices since white settlement in 1788. Latham has promised a Labor government would apologise.