Senator Christine Milne moves on

Christine Milne By Nigel Tapp

Six years as a boarder at St Mary’s College in Hobart taught Christine Milne of the need for people with skills to give back to their community.

It was that lesson from the nuns which took the former North-West school teacher first to the national stage as the spokesperson for a community action group which stopped the Wesley Vale pulp mill, in Tasmania in 1989, and then to state and federal parliaments.

Senator Milne announced last month that she would not be re-contesting her seat at next year’s federal election and is expected to leave parliament by the end of the year.

She spoke with Crosslight about her achievements in the social justice and environment spheres.

Ms Milne’s first foray into activism began when she campaigned to protect huts in Tasmania’s famous Cradle Mountain region. Then, in 1983, she was arrested and jailed during the campaign to save the Franklin River from a proposed dam for a Hydro Electric power scheme.

In November 1987, multinational company Noranda and North Broken Hill announced their intention to build a pulp mill on farm land at Wesley Vale, in Tasmania’s North-West. Ms Milne found herself thrust into the role of spokesperson for concerned farming families and the wider local community.

It was a campaign undertaken very differently to the slick multimedia marketing familiar today. For a start it was done on her kitchen table and there was no such thing as mobile phones, the Internet, email or social media.

“My press releases were written by hand, the only phone was on the wall in the kitchen and when we sent scientific reports to Hobart it was by (Redline) bus because it was quicker than posting them,” she recalled.

But the result was just as effective.

In March 1989, sensing the growing community hostility, Noranda withdrew from the project and Liberal premier Robin Gray called a snap election to seek a mandate for a mill. Mr Gray’s government was soundly beaten and Ms Milne was one of five anti-pulp mill supporters to win seats and allow Labor to govern in minority with an agreement that spelt the end to a mill.

She went on to become the first woman to lead a political party in Tasmania and finally to leadership of the Australian Greens in federal parliament.

Ms Milne said the time was now right for her to step away from parliament, believing in the abilities of her fellow Greens in the federal arena.

“My job is not done and it is never going to be done because the two major parties and the Nationals come from an ethos of exploiting the planet and that is going to go on for generations,” she said.

“But it is the right time because there is a great team in federal parliament to carry on.”

Ms Milne is not about to simply fade away. She will remain a passionate advocate for policies which protect the climate believing there is only years, rather than decades, before a significant world agreement is needed on the issue.

Ms Milne would dearly love to have seen marriage equality enacted in Australia before she left Parliament, particularly after watching the over-whelming support in Northern Ireland at last month’s referendum, but concedes that appears unlikely.


• Spokesperson for a community action group which stopped the Wesley Vale pulp mill in Tasmania in 1989 when a key partner withdrew and then supportive Robin Gray Liberal Government lost a State election.

• Elected to State Parliament in 1989 and went on to become first woman to lead a political party in Tasmania. Helped achieve a doubling of Tasmania’s World Heritage Area as part of the Labor-Green Accord which followed the 1989 State election.

• Her 1997 private member’s bill finally saw Tasmania become the last Australian state to decriminalise sex between consenting adult men in private

• Was a driving force behind tough new gun laws in Tasmania following the 1996 Port Arthur massacre. Senator Milne had campaigned long and hard for tougher laws in Tasmania but it took Port Arthur to force the major parties to bend on their previous intransigence.

• Worked with the then minority Rundle Liberal Government to have an apology to the Stolen Generation debated on the floor of the House of Assembly in 1997, more than a decade before Prime Minister Kevin Rudd’s national apology.

• Was elected to the Senate in 2004, became Deputy Leader of the Australian Greens in 2008 and replaced Dr Bob Brown as Leader in April 2012.

• A key player in the formulation of the clean energy package which was the cornerstone of the Greens’ support for the minority Gillard Labor Government in 2010.

Image by Marley Cook via Flickr.

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