Australian Greens Appoint Milne Leader After Brown Quits

Australia’s Greens Party, which holds the balance of power in the nation’s upper house, named Christine Milne to replace outgoing leader Bob Brown after he resigned today.

“It is prime time to hand over the reins,” Brown said in an emailed statement, saying he was retiring from working life. Brown, 67, will also resign in June from the Senate when a replacement from his home state of Tasmania is named, he said.

Australia’s minority Labor government has relied on Greens party lawmakers to pass legislation including taxes on carbon emissions and profits of iron-ore and coal producers. Prime Minister Julia Gillard’s performance in opinion polls plunged after she was forced to renege on a pre-election promise not to implement a price on carbon in exchange for Greens support to form a government.

“Even though she didn’t have much of a choice, Gillard’s deal with Brown to form government really damaged her reputation in the eyes of voters,” said Andrew Hughes, who conducts political-marketing research at the Australian National University in Canberra. “He’s been a thorn in the side of Labor over the years so his departure may help the government, which has been seen to be too close to the Greens.”

Minority Government

The Greens, who have one elected member in the House of Representatives and nine in the Senate, can appoint a new upper house member under parliament rules. The party will maintain its accord with Gillard under Milne’s leadership, Brown told reporters in Canberra today.

Adam Bandt, the Greens’ sole member in the House of Representatives, was elected Milne’s deputy.

Gillard assembled a minority government after the closest election in seven decades in August 2010, which included making the deal with Brown. Her Labor party has since suffered election losses at state level, leaving Gillard with allies governing just two of the nation’s six states. Gillard has also been forced to fend off a leadership challenge from predecessor Kevin Rudd, and has suffered near-record low results in polls.

Labor Support Slides

Labor had 27 percent support in the Nielsen poll conducted March 29-31 and published in today’s Sydney Morning Herald, compared with 47 percent for the Liberal-National opposition coalition led by Tony Abbott.

Parliament is on hiatus until May 8 when the government will announce its annual budget, which will seek to balance a drop in revenue with a pledge to deliver a surplus in the 12 months through June next year.

“Throughout his time in elected office, Bob Brown has been a figure of integrity with a deep love for this country and its environment,” Gillard said in an emailed statement today. “I wish him well for his life beyond politics.”

Milne, 58, led a campaign to halt the construction of a paper pulp mill near her home in rural Tasmania before being elected to the state’s parliament in 1989, according to a biography emailed by the Greens. She was elected to the federal Senate in 2004 and has served as the Greens deputy since 2008.

Environmental Concerns

“Under Bob’s wise leadership, the Greens have grown into the undisputed third force in Australian politics, with our vision, policies and action towards a healthier, cleverer, cleaner future embraced by 1.7 million Australians,” Milne, also from Tasmania, said in an e-mailed statement today.

Brown, openly gay, led the Tasmanian Wilderness Society and was a key protestor against the proposed Franklin Dam, which was later scrapped by then Prime Minister Bob Hawke.

The former doctor served as a state senator for 10 years from 1983 before his election to the federal Senate in 1996, according to his website. Brown and his party, which won the most seats in its history at the 2010 elections, has lobbied against woodchipping by the timber industry, damning of rivers, reliance on coal for the nation’s energy supply, and Australia’s participation in the Afghanistan war.

Brown was suspended from parliament in October 2003 for interjecting during an address by visiting U.S. President George W. Bush.

“Brown is a rare leader in that he’s leaving politics on top, and before he was pushed,” Australian National University’s Hughes said. “The party has the highest level of representation in parliament, so he leaves a good legacy.”

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