When Midnight Oil performed at the closing ceremony of the 2000 Sydney Olympics, immediately prior to taking the stage, the band members removed their boiler suits to reveal clothes lavishly emblazed with the word SORRY. Earlier that year, then prime minister John Howard, who was in the audience that night, had refused to apologize to indigenous Australians for the more than 200 years of suffering they have endured under white settlement. As the frontman for the Australian rock icons, Peter Garrett has crafted a career out of stirring Australia’s social consciousness. Through their music, Midnight Oil not only championed reconciliation with indigenous Australia via recognition and land rights, but also drew attention to issues ranging from nuclear disarmament to various environmental concerns.
In 1984, Garrett took his ideals into the political arena when he co-founded the Nuclear Disarmament Party. Unsuccessful in his bid for a seat in the Senate that time around, in 2004 the musician-cum-activist joined the Australian Labor Party and won the federal seat of Kingsford Smith in the House of Representatives. With the ironically named and conservative-oriented Australian Liberal Party retaining control at that election, Garrett was subsequently appointed Shadow Parliamentary Secretary for Reconciliation and the Arts. Having substantially toned down his liberal rhetoric in order to fall in line with the policies of the party, Garrett constantly incurred the wrath of both the media and fans of Midnight Oil for selling out.
When Kevin Rudd seized control of the Australian Labour Party in 2006, he made clear his intentions for Garrett, promoting him to Shadow Minister for Climate Change, Environment, Heritage, and the Arts. In last Saturday’s federal election, after 12 years of conservative rule, John Howard’s Liberal Party was ousted from government. Then, on Thursday, November 29, Prime Minister Rudd announced his cabinet, which included the former rock star as Minister for Environment, Heritage, and the Arts. While Garrett’s days of stripping off to reveal an apology might be long behind him, we can only hope that the rock ‘n’ roll attitude and social consciousness that served him so well for more than 30 years in Midnight Oil will buoy his next round of public performances.