Peter Robert Garrett AM (born 16 April 1953) is an Australian musician, environmentalist, activist and former politician.
Garrett is the lead singer of the Australian rock band Midnight Oil. He served as President of the Australian Conservation Foundation for ten years and, in 2003, was appointed a Member of the Order of Australia for his contribution to the environment and music industry. He is also known for his signature bald head and his unique and eccentric dance style.
He was the Australian Labor Party member of the House of Representatives for the seat of Kingsford Smith, New South Wales, from October 2004 to August 2013. After the Labor Party won in the November 2007 election, Garrett was appointed Minister for the Environment, Heritage and the Arts by Prime Minister Kevin Rudd. On 8 March 2010, his portfolio title was changed to Environment Protection, Heritage and the Arts. and was appointed Minister for School Education, Early Childhood and Youth by Prime Minister Julia Gillard. He was sworn into this portfolio on 14 September 2010 as a member of the Second Gillard Ministry, and following a leadership spill in the Australian Labor Party, Garrett resigned his position as Minister for School Education, Early Childhood and Youth and moved to the backbench. He later announced that he would not be contesting his seat at the next federal election.
Garrett became a Member of the Order of Australia in 2003 "For service to the community as a prominent advocate for environmental conservation and protection, and to the music industry."
In 2009, the French Government appointed Garrett an Officer of the Order of Arts and Letters. In 2010, the World Wide Fund for Nature presented him with their Leaders for a Living Planet award.
Music and activism
Born on 16 April 1953, in Wahroonga, Sydney, Garrett attended Gordon West Public School and then Barker College in Hornsby before studying politics at the Australian National University (ANU), where he was a resident at Burgmann College, and later law at the University of New South Wales. His father died while he was still at school. His mother died in a fire at the family home, during his period at university. About the same time he became a singer with the Australian rock band Midnight Oil in 1973, after responding to an advertisement placed by one of the band's founding members, Rob Hirst. In tandem with their musical and commercial success, the band were long identified with environmental causes. They were particularly critical of United States' military and foreign policies during the 1980s.
Garrett was president of the Australian Conservation Foundation (1989–93, 1998–2004). He joined the international board of Greenpeace in 1993 for a two-year term. He served as adviser and patron to various cultural and community organisations, including Jubilee Debt Relief, and was a founding member of the Surfrider Foundation.
On and off stage, Midnight Oil often made political statements. At the closing ceremony of the 2000 Olympic Games in Sydney, the group performed before the Prime Minister, John Howard, and a television audience of hundreds of millions, wearing black overalls bearing the word "sorry". This referred to the Howard Government's refusal to apologise to Aboriginal Australians for the former policy of removing of Aboriginal children from their families.
In 2000, Garrett was awarded the Australian Humanitarian Foundation Award in the environment category and in 2001 he received an honorary Doctorate of Letters from the University of New South Wales. He left Midnight Oil in 2002 to concentrate on his environmental and social activism, effectively spelling the end for the group.
Following the Asian tsunami of Boxing Day 2004, Garrett and the other members of Midnight Oil performed for two gigs as part of the fund-raising event WaveAid.
On 7 July 2007, Garrett presented Crowded House at the Australian leg of Live Earth.
On 14 March 2009, Garrett performed live at the Melbourne Cricket Ground, as part of Midnight Oil, for Sound Relief, to raise money for the Victorian bushfire appeal.
In November 2012, Garrett and Paul Kelly inducted Yothu Yindi in the ARIA Hall of Fame and performed with the band their best-known song "Treaty".
On 5 May 2016, Peter Garrett announced that Midnight Oil would be reforming and stated that they would be touring in 2017, including a trip to the United States. Midnight Oil stated on their Facebook page: "We wanted you to be the first to know that the five of us are planning to do some gigs in Australia and overseas during 2017."
On 15 May 2016, Peter Garrett announced a solo album, A Version of Now, which was released on 15 July 2016. Following the announcement of the album was news of Garrett's Australian tour, starting on 21 July 2016 and running until 17 August 2016. Garrett's website stated that "Most of the songs on 'A Version of Now' were composed recently as Peter penned his autobiography" and "Throughout this tour, the iconic frontman will be backed by an all-star band that he's christened 'The Alter Egos'" that includes well-known Australian musicians "Martin Rotsey from the Oils on guitar, Mark Wilson from Jet on bass and Peter Luscombe (Rockwiz, Paul Kelly, Black Sorrows) on drums".
Australian federal politics
Garrett's first attempt at entering politics was in December 1984, when the Nuclear Disarmament Party invited him to stand for a New South Wales seat in the Australian Senate at the federal election. He refused at first, but after consulting the band, he agreed on condition that he head the ticket. He needed 12.5% of the vote to win a seat in the Senate voting system, but a primary vote of 9.6% was insufficient when Labor gave its preferences to the conservative Liberal and National Parties ahead of the NDP.
In June 2004, Labor leader Mark Latham announced that Garrett would become an Australian Labor Party candidate for the House of Representatives at the 2004 federal election, in the safe New South Wales seat of Kingsford Smith which was being vacated by the former Cabinet minister Laurie Brereton. There was some initial criticism from Labor members in the electorate, as this overrode the local branch's wishes. He won an easy victory on 9 October, increasing the Labor majority there.
In June 2005, Garrett was appointed Shadow Parliamentary Secretary for Reconciliation and the Arts.
During his political career, it was reported that Garrett had modified many of his earlier views. He supported the U.S.-Australia alliance, and no longer opposes the Joint U.S.-Australian Defence Facility at Pine Gap. At the time, he stated that he would argue for environmental causes inside the Labor Party, but would observe the decisions of the ALP caucus, including accepting any decision to change Labor's "no new uranium mines" policy. Garrett's change of stance drew criticism from both journalists and Midnight Oil fans, who contrasted Garrett's former pronouncements on environmental and political issues he made before joining Labor.
While the media sometimes labelled him a "turncoat", some commentators, such as the left-wing Eureka Street and the Canberra Times columnist and political science ANU academic, John Warhurst, who defended his need to be a "team player" if he was going to play the political game "from the inside".
Garrett campaigned for Labor in the 2006 Victorian state election. There was controversy when he sent a letter to the constituents of the seat of Melbourne, where Labor and the Greens were embroiled in a tight contest. In the letter Garrett urged voters not to vote for the Greens, claiming they were in alliance with the conservative Liberal party. This incurred the ire of Greens leader and former Garrett ally, Bob Brown who accused Garrett of having "sold out" and of going against the green movement, since joining the Labor Party.
In December 2006 Kevin Rudd, the newly elected Labor Party leader, appointed Garrett to his Shadow Cabinet as Shadow Minister for Climate Change, Environment & Heritage, Arts. Garrett had voted for Rudd in the December 2006 leadership spill, a decision he would later regret saying it was "certainly the biggest" mistake he made in his political career.
Labor and Garrett were criticised for accepting the Howard Government's decision to approve the plans for Gunns Ltd to build the Bell Bay Pulp Mill in the Tamar Valley, Tasmania. (In January 2009, as Labor's environment minister, Garrett placed further conditions on Gunns with a request for detailed studies on potential marine impacts. In early 2014, with Gunns Ltd in receivership, the pulp mill is unlikely to proceed.)
In the 2007 Federal election, Garrett was re-elected to his seat with a 4.56% swing towards him. However, his campaign was fraught with a number of tactical errors, including journalist Steve Price claiming that Garrett had said to him that Labor would simply change all their policies once they got into power. This was disputed by Garrett as a "short jocular conversation".
First Rudd ministry
Garrett was appointed as Minister for the Environment, Heritage and the Arts in the First Rudd Ministry; however, his responsibilities did not include the climate change role, which was given to Penny Wong.
On 20 December 2007, Garrett approved a controversial plan to dredge Melbourne's Port Phillip Bay. This move attracted strong criticism from environmental groups who were concerned that the 23 million cubic metres of sand, rock and contaminated silt dredged from the bay's shipping channels will affect fishing and tourism in the area.
In 2007, he refused as incoming arts minister the federal funding that would have enabled a remount of Elke Neidhardt's acclaimed Adelaide production of Der Ring des Nibelungen in 2008.
As Environment Minister, Garrett was responsible for implementing the Labor government's whaling conservation policy, which included the cessation of commercial and "scientific" whaling. Japan's annual trip to the Southern Ocean to kill whales in the name of science was the emotional front line for the protagonists. The Australian government tried to negotiate a cessation of "scientific" whaling at the annual meetings of the International Whaling Commission. These negotiations were unsuccessful, and in 2013 Australia took Japan to the International Court of Justice (ICJ). In March 2014, the ICJ announced its judgement that Japan must stop whaling in the Southern Ocean, which had actually been for commercial rather than scientific purposes.
Garrett approved a major expansion of South Australia's Beverley uranium mine in August 2008, saying the uranium mine would use world's best practice for environmental protection. Garrett's decision was praised by the uranium industry, but criticised by the Australian Conservation Foundation which said the decision would result in the mine spreading acid and radioactive pollution over 100 square kilometres (39 sq mi).
Garrett announced in October 2008 that the government would be withdrawing all A$2.6 million funding from Australian National Academy of Music (ANAM).
In 2009, Garrett would not give the proposed A$2 billion Tamar Valley mill approval until more studies were undertaken on its potential impact on marine environments. A new condition was put on the mill meaning Gunns could be liable for criminal and civil penalties if the mill is approved and breaks defined "environmental limits".
In December 2009 Garrett rejected the proposal to impound the Mary River through the construction of the Traveston Crossing Dam. Garrett determined that the impacts of the proposed dam on the threatened species of Australian lungfish, the Mary River Turtle and the Mary River cod would be too great and unacceptable and of national environmental significance.
In a reshuffle of the ministry, Rudd demoted Garrett as Minister for Environment Protection, Heritage and the Arts. This demotion was in response to Garrett's administration of the Home Insulation Program (HIP) that was linked to four deaths, over 100 house fires and allegations of fraud. It was revealed in May 2010 that Garrett had written to Prime Minister Rudd on four occasions raising concerns about safety. Further to this, following the 2010 Labor leadership spill, Gary Gray was reported to believe that Garrett was demoted because "Rudd had a shocking interview on The 7.30 Report and needed a scapegoat". Gray stated:
The majority of caucus felt he had been badly treated. For Rudd and his office to position Garrett as the fall guy was disgraceful, weak, sneaky, unprincipled and just plain wrong. All along, Peter properly put his objections to the administration of the program on the record. How can you have a situation where Rudd executes complete and total influence, micromanages everything, yet not the home insulation program? The shape and execution of the program was certainly designed by the prime minister's office, if not the prime minister himself.
Garrett retained the portfolio of Environment Protection, Heritage and the Arts in the First Gillard Ministry.
Garrett was re-elected at the 2010 federal election with a substantially reduced majority, surviving a two party preferred negative swing of 8.1%. After the election he was appointed Minister for School Education, Early Childhood and Youth in the Second Gillard Ministry.
On 2 February 2012, Garrett, with Jenny Macklin, the Federal Indigenous Affairs Minister, announced an expansion of the Improving School Enrollment and Attendance through Welfare Reform Measure (SEAM), a controversial program under which parents of indigenous students in the Northern Territory can have their Centrelink payments suspended for three months if their children are not attending or enrolled in school. Though the Government claimed that the program improved indigenous school attendance, it was heavily criticised by indigenous spokespeople and academics for being excessively punitive rather than implementing other policies that have been far more effective in improving school attendance, such as reinstating bilingual learning. Furthermore, the Government was criticised for being deceptive about getting a mandate for this from consultation with indigenous leaders.
On 7 September 2011, as Education Minister, Garrett announced an alteration of the National School Chaplaincy Program by offering schools the opportunity to employ, instead of "a religious support worker" (chaplain), a "secular student well-being officer". In June 2012, the High Court held that the Commonwealth's funding agreement for the program is invalid.
In June 2013 Garrett vowed to increase funding to public schools as recommended in the Gonski Report to reduce inequality in educational performance. In a 2014 book review, Garrett stated that he was concerned at growth of private schools, which could lead to "an increasingly segregated school system." He noted that the National School Chaplaincy Program needed to change their guidelines because "the line between chaplains acting to support students in the provision of general pastoral care and proselytising was too easily crossed"
Garrett supported Gillard in the June 2013 leadership spill of the Labor Party, where Rudd defeated Gillard. Garrett immediately announced that he resigned his ministerial commission, and a few days later, announced that he would not seek re-election at the 2013 federal election.
Garrett is married and has three daughters, Emily, Grace, and May. Garrett is the uncle of former Nickelodeon Australia and former SourceFed personality Maude Garrett.
Garrett's grandfather, Tom Vernon Garrett, was one of many prisoners of war who died in the sinking of the SS Montevideo Maru. That sinking is considered the worst maritime disaster in Australia's history.
In 2007 the artist Michael Mucci entered a portrait of Garrett in the Archibald Prize.
Garrett supports the Essendon Bombers in the Australian Football League.
- A Version of Now (2016)