Peter Garrett became lead singer of the Midnight Oil in 1973. As well as its great musical and commercial success, the band became well known for its commitment to environmentalist and left-wing causes, and was particularly critical of United States military and foreign policies during the 1980s. Garrett served as president of the Australian Conservation Foundation from 1989 to 1993 and 1998 to 2004. He also joined the International Board of Greenpeace in 1993 for a two-year term. He served as adviser and patron to various cultural and community organisations including Jubilee Debt Relief, and was a founding member of the Surfrider Foundation. In 2000 Garrett was awarded the Australian Humanitarian Foundation Award in the Environment category and in 2001 he received an honorary Doctorate of Letters from the University of New South Wales.
Garrett's first attempt at entering politics was in 1984, when he co founded the Nuclear Disarmament Party and stood for a seat in the Australian Senate in New South Wales at the December 1984 federal election. He needed 12.5% of the vote to win a seat in the Senate voting system, but a primary vote of just over 9% was insufficient when Labor gave its preferences to the conservative National Party ahead of the NDP.
Garrett decided to quit Midnight Oil on December 2, 2002, to focus on his political career. He won the seat of Kingsford Smith at the 2004 General Election for the Australian Labor Party and was selected as Shadow Minister for Climate Change, Environment, Heritage and the Arts. On Thursday, 29th November 2007, Labor Prime Minister elect Kevin Rudd named Garrett Minister for Environment, Heritage and Arts. However, he was stripped of the Climate change role, which was given to Penny Wong.
During the 2006 Victorian State election campaign, Garrett urged voters to not vote for the Australian Greens, but for his own Labor Party. This incurred the ire of Greens leader and former Garrett ally, Bob Brown who accused Garrett of having "sold out" and of going against the green movement, since joining the Labor Party.
Garrett has modified many of his earlier views and says he is now a "team player" in the Labor Party. He now supports the U.S.-Australia alliance, and no longer opposes the Joint U.S-Australian Defence Facility at Pine Gap. He says he will argue for environmental causes inside the Labor Party, but will observe the decisions of the ALP caucus, including accepting any decision to change Labor's "no new uranium mines" policy. Garrett's change of stance drew criticism from both journalists and Midnight Oil fans, who contrasted Garrett's former pronouncements on environmental and political issues he made before joining the Australian Labor Party.
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