Leading the Greens

By Ari Karpel

Originally published on Advocate.com September 24 2010 5:05 AM ET

 Australia’s too-close-to-call August 21 election left the leaders of both major political parties to turn to independent Andrew Wilkie and Greens representative Andrew Brandt—both advocates of marriage equality— in effort to form a minority government. And what that means for gay people is that the country’s first hung parliament in 70 years could result in gay rights advances.

But one of the people behind Brandt has been fighting for gay civil rights and environmental breakthroughs since he became the first openly gay member of Parliament in 1996. As leader of the Greens party, Senator Bob Brown has a broad platform of progressive causes, from aboriginal rights to light rail, logging, and climate change—and his party has been making a steady impression on mainstream Aussie politics from what was once the left-wing fringe.

“When I moved for a national study into high-speed rail in the Senate a few months back, Labor and the Coalition voted ‘no!'” Brown exclaimed in his pre-election speech to the National Press Club of Australia. “The Coalition branded the study a waste of people's money. We Greens persisted. Now, in the middle of this campaign, Labor, seeing how popular the project is, has switched to ‘yes!' Remarkably, the Coalition also switched to 'yes.’”

The federal election delivered the Greens its best result yet—what Brown refers to as “the Greenslide.” The party now has nine senators, giving them the balance of power in the upper house, and won its first lower house seat at a general election. As the self-proclaimed “people’s watchdog,” the Greens party has announced a plan for “rapid government action on climate change.”

Born in New South Wales, Brown studied medicine in Sydney and worked in London before moving to Australia’s state of Tasmania, where he became involved in the environmental movement. As a member of United Tasmania Group, Australia’s first “greens party,” Brown came out in a 1972 newspaper interview. Since then, he has worked his way up in state and federal politics, tirelessly agitating for forest protection, greenhouse abatement and a range of international social justice issues. And at 65 years old, he seems to be just hitting his stride.