The leader of the third force in Australian politics yesterday announced his resignation from parliament, but said his party would maintain its support for Prime Minister Julia Gillard’s fragile minority government.
Bob Brown, 67, announced his resignation as leader of the Greens party and said he would leave the senate in June after 16 years to “make room for renewal” in the left-wing, environmentally focused party.
Brown, who has led the party since its inception in 1992, is Australia’s first openly gay federal lawmaker. An opponent of the Iraq War, Brown came into the spotlight in 2003 after being banned from parliament for 24 hours for heckling then-US president George W. Bush while he was addressing the body.
The last federal election in 2010 was by far the Greens’ most successful. It increased the party’s ranks from three to nine senators — plus its first-ever legislator in the House of Representatives, where a prime minister needs to command a majority of the 150 seats to form a government.
The support of the Greens’ lone lawmaker in the lower chamber has enabled Gillard’s center-left Labor Party to form a minority government with a single-seat majority since 2010. Help from the Greens also enabled Labor to pass contentious legislation through the senate.
Brown was replaced as leader yesterday by his deputy, Senator Christine Milne.
“The arrangement with the government stays the same,” Brown told reporters, referring to the Greens’ deal to support the government.
Greens support has come at a political cost to Gillard’s government, which is trailing the conservatives in opinion polls ahead of elections due next year.
She had promised her government would not introduce a carbon tax, but after striking a deal with the Greens, legislation was passed by parliament requiring the nation’s largest polluters to pay A$23 (US$24) for every tonne of carbon gas they produce from July 1.
Political scientist Nick Economou of Monash University said the departure of Brown could help Gillard.
“It may help Gillard a little bit in trying to distance herself from the Greens,” he said.
“Brown’s a giant in Australian politics. He’s been an extraordinarily successful political actor; he’s brought a movement that was at the fringes of Australian politics right to the center with profound effect,” Economou added.
Gillard issued a statement thanking Brown.
“Throughout his time in elected office, Bob Brown has been a figure of integrity with a deep love for this country and its environment,” she said.
Brown was first elected to the Tasmanian state parliament on an environmental platform in 1983.