So what’s going on here?
“We are not going to save the planet by being perennially well-mannered,” says Brown, the founder and former leader of the Greens, whose environmental activism is these days funnelled via the foundation that bears his name.
“I used to be too shy,” he adds. “I’m over it. I’m much more direct now, since leaving Parliament.”
The time for “playing nice with planet killers” is over, he says. “I’m not one for trying to find placatory words for people who are robbing our children of their right to a secure future on a sustainable planet, and that’s what our political leaders are doing.”
Convoy is an unashamedly slanted account of the road trip in April and May last year, from Tasmania to Clermont in Queensland and then back to Canberra, in a bid to draw attention to Adani’s controversial and economically questionable proposed mine in the Galilee Basin.
Though it ended with a rally of 5000 people outside Parliament House in Canberra, with Paul Kelly performing and Richard Flanagan reading – “the biggest public rally during the 2019 election campaign”, Brown claims – there was limited media coverage.
There are, though, plenty of commentators who have subsequently ascribed huge impact to the convoy, with some going so far as to sheet blame for Labor’s failure to win government to the campaign against the Queensland coal mine.
But Brown won’t have a bar of it.
“If only we could determine who is in government,” he says. “Bill Shorten sitting on the fence, backed by his ministers, lost the election. If Shorten had said, ‘I will stop the Adani mine’, he’d have lost the same number of seats in Queensland but would have won a whole stack more seats for his leadership in the rest of metropolitan Australia, and he’d be prime minister now.”
Nor was the return of a Coalition government a worse outcome as far as the Stop Adani movement is concerned.
“Labor would have put a stamp of approval on this mine, and that would have been harder to fight,” he says. “The failure of vision and social justice and environmental wellbeing on this issue under Labor is monumental, and it’s continuing. While Albo’s (Anthony Albanese) own electorate was shrouded in bushfire smoke so you couldn’t see one corner from the next, he was in Queensland talking up coal. Appalling.”
At 75, there’s still plenty of fire left in Brown’s belly. Coal’s days are numbered, he says; even as its development proceeds “full throttle”, Adani is destined to become a “stranded asset” as the world turns towards renewables.
What’s more surprising is that he has plenty of optimism too, that the youth of this country have the wisdom and the tools to change things for the better. “I delight in the beautiful intelligence of young Australia,” he says.
You’re ready to pass the baton then? “I’m passing the baton already. I know they’ve got the baton, they’re running. I can see the basics being set in place, and it fills me with hope.
“I’m so happy to be on the [right] side of history on this.”
Convoy screens, followed by a panel discussion featuring Bob Brown and director Matthew Newton, at Cinema Nova at 6.15pm on Friday February 21. Full program at transitionsfilmfestival.com
Karl Quinn is a senior culture writer at The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald.