Rock star turned politician branded a 'sell out'

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He was the rock star who urged Australians to save the forests and oppose US military bases on their soil. But the fans who adored Peter Garrett the outspoken lead singer of Midnight Oil are less impressed with Peter Garrett the politician.

When Mr Garrett agreed to stand for Labour in 2004, party apparatchiks were delighted. Mr Garrett, a household name and former environmental activist, was certain to attract the youth vote, they reasoned – helping Labour to modernise its image and defeat John Howard's government.

Mr Garrett became an MP, but Labour lost the election. Three years on, polls suggest that Labour, under its new leader, Kevin Rudd, is set to oust Mr Howard on 24 November. Mr Garrett hopes to be given the key post of Environment Minister in a new administration. But followers of "the Oils", one of Australia's biggest ever bands who had a string of worldwide hits in the 1980s and early 1990s, believe he has sold out.

Mr Garrett has dropped his opposition to uranium mining. A former president of the Australian Conservation Foundation, he now backs plans for a massive pulp mill in a scenic Tasmanian valley. The former advocate of nuclear disarmament now accepts the need for US bases in Australia. The man who espoused Aboriginal land rights was silent when Mr Howard sent the military to take over indigenous settlements in the Northern Territory, in response to allegations of widespread child abuse. Labour supports the action.

Not only has Mr Garrett abandoned his principles, claim his critics, but he is proving a liability for Labour during this crucial election campaign. It is rumoured that he is being kept under wraps for fear of what he might say if allowed out.

Last week these fears proved justified. Mr Garrett declared that a Labour government would sign up to binding targets for carbon emissions cuts even if developing nations did not. Forced to backtrack, he was then flatly contradicted by Mr Rudd, who said Labour would refuse to ratify such an agreement unless it included China and India.

A few days later Mr Garrett bumped into a radio host, Steve Price, in a Sydney airport lounge. Mr Price asked him why Labour's policies were so similar to Mr Howard's. Mr Garrett told him not to worry, saying: "Once we get in, we'll just change it all." After the conversation was reported by Mr Price, Mr Garrett claimed it had been a "jocular" remark. But Mr Howard said it showed that Mr Garrett was "still a radical".

It is all very different from the days when Mr Garrett lent his support to a range of left-wing causes. He says he has become "a team player". But Bob Brown, leader of the Australian Greens and until recently a good friend, has called him "spineless". Discussing Mr Garrett's ambitions with him before he joined Labour, Mr Brown claims he told him: "Don't do it, don't go into a big party, they'll eat you up and spit you out."