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Peter Garrett: my guitar kept me sane

Festivals

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Never say never – that seems to be Peter Garrett’s attitude towards the inevitable curiosity about whether he might take to the stage again with the Oils post-politics.

Talking to InDaily ahead of his appearance at WOMADelaide’s Planet Talks this weekend, Garrett says that if the stars aligned and there was a good reason for the band members to get together, he would consider it – “but the boys are all off doing other things and so am I”.

Garrett still has a keen interest in music – in fact, he describes it as “the food of life” – and says having a guitar in his parliamentary office during his nine and a half years as a federal MP and cabinet minister kept him sane. “It’s better than a fridge,” he adds, laughing.

So is there a chance he might revive his musical career without Midnight Oil?

“I’m somebody who really just takes each day as it comes … I’m open to creative experiences with other people but I’ve always said my first and biggest love was the Oils and that’s still the case.”

For Garrett, the band wasn’t just about playing music; it was a means of communicating a message about issues such as the environment and Indigenous rights.

“It’s part of who you are, but it’s not the only thing,” he says of performing.

“There are lots of other things that I’m interested in and get a kick out of doing.”

He has had a long association with WOMAD, having played in Botanic Park with Midnight Oil in 1997, and also touring with WOMAD in the United States when founder Peter Gabriel was putting the festival together there. This time around, Garrett won’t be performing at WOMADelaide, but will be taking part in the Planet Talks program addressing one of his other passions: the environment.

In a Sunday session titled “When Polly met Peter & Tim”, he will join Australian environment campaigner Tim Flannery and UK barrister and activist Polly Higgins in a conversation about how the law must tackle climate change. Higgins is founder of the international Ecocide campaign and has lobbied for the United Nations to recognise ecocide as a crime.

Asked his view on the Ecocide campaign, Garrett says such proposals have to be put on the table.

“I’m looking forward to spending some time and having a discussion with Polly.

“I understand why people would be thinking deeply about what other potential approaches there are to rein in all the damage done to the environment … especially when some of the bigger economies play such a powerful role.”

Garrett argues that there are straightforward actions that need to be taken to tackle climate change which are blocked only by “a lack of political will or a blind antipathy to climate change action by our current government”.

He says priorities include having a “real price” on carbon pollution; committing to an emissions-reduction target; and creating an “environmental budget” so there is a clear understanding of how much carbon pollution the country is producing, where it’s being reduced, and its impact on areas such as waterways and biodiversity.

His concern, shared by many environmentalists, is that measures taken by the current Federal Government are undermining progress made in Australia to address climate change. Garrett says the thought that policy could end up back where it was a decade or more ago is “ridiculous and scary”.

“It is complete lunacy for policy on the environment and climate change at the highest levels to be directed by sceptics and climate deniers.”

But it certainly won’t be all talk and no play for Garrett at WOMADelaide over the weekend. He says he’s also keen to hang out in the festival crowd, enjoy the vibe and listen to the music, with favourite acts in the line-up including UK singer and activist Billy Bragg, New Orleans jazz and blues pianist Jon Cleary, Sufi musician Asif Ali Khan, Portugese Fado singer Carminho and Australian singer Thelma Plum.

“The program’s a standout – it’s an embarrassment of riches. I think it [WOMADelaide] is one of the best festivals in the country; it always has been.”

WOMADelaide will be in Botanic Park from this Friday until Monday (March 7-10). The Planet Talk climate-change discussion with Peter Garrett, Polly Higgins and Tim Flannery will be at 5pm on Sunday.

Adelaide Festival hub

Click here for InDaily’s stories and reviews from the 2014 Adelaide Festival, including WOMADelaide and Adelaide Writers’ Week.

 

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