On this day March 2: Dr Bob Brown

bob brown march 2
Image: Sydney Morning Herald

The federal election of March 2 1996 saw Dr Bob Brown elected as the first openly gay member of the Parliament of Australia. Re-elected in 2001 and 2007, Senator Bob Brown resigned from the Senate in 2012.

Bob Brown moved to Tasmania in 1972 after working as a doctor in Australia and London. In 1996, he came out as gay and following involvement in environmental campaigns, entered the Tasmanian Parliament in 1983.

The 1996 Tasmanian Federal Senate race saw a fierce contest between the Greens, the Democrats and Labor for the seat eventually won by Dr Brown. The Democrats accused the Greens of fighting dirty by highlighting their direction of preferences to Fred Nile’s Call To Australia party. Dr Brown described the preference deal as an own goal.

“It’s the bitterness of somebody whose own strategy went astray and rebounded.”

Despite his election to the Senate, right-wing commentators continued to brand Dr Brown as some sort of anarchic ratbag. Columnists in the Sydney Morning Herald called him an ‘environmental terrorist’ and a ‘veteran troublemaker’.

However, looking back over his 1996 policies now, it’s amazing how many have since been adopted by the major parties.

Senator Bob Brown

Senator Brown took his seat in the Australian Senate on July 1, 1996.

In October, Outrage Magazine named him in its first annual list of Australian ‘power gays’. The list, which excluded those not out at the time, also included former Federal Liberal deputy leader Neil Brown, Molly Meldrum, Judi Connelli and Robyn Archer.

Senator Brown gave his maiden speech in the Senate at the same time that Pauline Hanson, recently elected as the Member for Oxley, gave hers in the House of Representatives. He called for Australia to become an egalitarian country without fear or favour.

During his first term, Bob Brown often spoke out against Howard Liberal government policies on environmental and human rights issues. He introduced bills for forest protection and to block radioactive waste dumping. He also sought to ban the use of cluster munitions. Russia allegedly used cluster bombs against Ukrainian cities this week. And Senator Brown introduced a bill for greenhouse abatement way back in the nineties.

Since his retirement from Federal politics in 2012, Dr Bob Brown concentrated his efforts on the Bob Brown Foundation, promoting environmental awareness

Read more: March 1 <— On this day —> March 3

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