Brown, Robert James

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MB BS 1968

Senator Bob Brown left an early career in medicine to become a highly successful environmental activist and politician. As the leader of the five Green Independents he formed an accord with the Labor Party in 1989 and established the Australian Greens in 1992. In 1996, he became the first Australian Greens Senator elected to the Australian Senate.

After graduating from medicine in 1968, Bob worked in general practice in Canberra, London, Sydney and Perth before moving to Launceston, Tasmania in 1972. His involvement in local environmental politics began in 1973, when he became an activist against the damming of Lake Pedder. Although the blockade was not successful, it was this initial clash that led to the formation of the Wilderness Society. As Bob recalls:

The clash with Tasmania’s dam builders, wood chippers and miners was obvious and we knew that large-scale tourism developments were coming next to make money at the expense of wilderness. So the huddle of 16 greenies in beanies by the fire in my little farmhouse at Liffey that wet, wintry last Saturday in June 1976, had a mood of excitement as it agreed on Kevin Kiernan’s suggestion of the name the ‘The Tasmanian Wilderness Society’ and for the first meeting to be in August in Hobart. We set a $2 fee, put an ad in the paper, announced our first campaign to stop a concrete bridge across the Picton River for the loggers (we lost) and got ready for a long fight to save the Franklin River.[1]

In 1979, he became the Director of the Wilderness Society and was responsible for organising the blockade of the dam-works on Tasmania’s wild Franklin River in 1982.

During that blockade, 1500 people were arrested and 600 jailed, including Bob, who spent 19 days in Risdon Prison. On the day of his release from jail, he was elected as the first Green into Tasmania’s Parliament. By 1983, the Federal Government had decided to intervene and give the Franklin River heritage protection.

As a State MP, Bob Brown has introduced a wide range of private member’s initiatives. These have included his work towards Freedom of Information, Death with Dignity, gay law reform, the banning of the battery-hen industry, and efforts towards a nuclear-free Tasmania. He has also pushed for the lowering of parliamentary salaries. His 1987 bill to ban semi-automatic guns was voted down by both Liberal and Labor members of the House of Assembly, seven years before the Port Arthur massacre.

In 1989, he led the Greens parliamentary team which held the balance of power with the Field Labor Government. During that time, the Greens saved 25 schools from closure; instigated the Local Employment Initiatives, which created more than 1000 jobs in a depressed area; doubled the size of Tasmania’s Wilderness World Heritage Area (to 1.4 million hectares); created the Douglas Apsley National Park; and supported tough Labor fiscal measures to reduce the debts incurred by the previous Liberal regime. In 1990, Bob established the Australian Bush Heritage Fund to buy land for conservation.

Bob was the driving force in forming the Australian Greens in 1992 and has played a leading role in fostering Green politics and forming close links with Greens in Europe, the Americas, Africa and Asia.

Bob resigned from the Tasmanian Parliament in 1993 and was elected to the Australian Senate in 1996. In 2001 he was re-elected to the Australian Senate and hosted the first Global Greens Conference in Australia. To date he remains a member of the Australian Senate and the leader of The Australian Greens. In his role as Senator, he has introduced bills for constitutional reform, forest protection, to block radioactive waste dumping, to ban mandatory sentencing of Aboriginal children and for greenhouse abatement. He has taken a leading role in shaping the national political debate on a wide range of issues.

In addition to these political achievements he is a writer. His books include Lake Pedder, Wild Rivers, Tarkine Trails, The Greens, Memo for a Saner World and in 2005, Tasmania’s Recherche Bay.

Citation: Mellor, Lise (2008) Brown, Robert James. Faculty of Medicine Online Museum and Archive, University of Sydney.

An alternate version appears in: Mellor, L. 150 Years, 150 Firsts: The People of the Faculty of Medicine (2006) Sydney, Sydney University Press.