March 11, 2009 / 5:26 AM / 10 years ago

Aussie politician turns rocker again for benefit gig

CANBERRA (Reuters) - Australian politician Peter Garrett reunites with his rock band Midnight Oil on Thursday to warm-up for a bushfires’ benefit concert, vowing not to shy away from the politically charged songs of his activist era.

Peter Garrett, lead singer of Midnight Oil and Shadow Minister for Climate Change, Environment, Heritage and the Arts, speaks onstage at the Live Earth Concert held in Australia at Aussie Stadium in Sydney, July 7, 2007. REUTERS/Patrick Riviere

The lanky, bald Garrett, 55, was the lead singer of Midnight Oil for 26 years, swaying the hearts and minds of a generation as he jerkily danced and railed against U.S. foreign policies and corporate greed and for indigenous rights and the environment.

But Garrett quit music in 2002 for politics, winning a seat in the Australian parliament in 2004 for the center-left Labor Party. He was appointed Minister for the Environment, Heritage and the Arts when Labor won power in 2007.

Since joining parliament, Garrett, a committed Christian, has only reunited with Midnight Oil for two benefit concerts — in 2005 to raise funds for the victims of the Indian Ocean tsunami and this week for victims of Australia’s bushfires and floods.

“I have seen how devastating the Victorian bushfires have been for so many people and I am very pleased to be able to join the incredible effort of the Australian music industry that I worked in for so long,” Garrett said in a statement.

About 210 people died and up to 10,000 people were left homeless in last month’s bushfires in the state of Victoria which were Australia’s worst natural disaster in more than a century, while flooding forced thousands in Queensland from their homes.

Garrett said he didn’t have much time to rehearse but the band would play two sell-out warm-ups in Canberra on Thursday and Friday before playing to 78,000 people in Melbourne on Saturday.

Another Sound Relief concert for 40,000 people will be held simultaneously in Sydney on Saturday with the lineups including Kylie Minogue, a reunited Split Enz, Coldplay, Jack Johnson, Wolfmother, Jet, Hoodoo Gurus, Paul Kelly, and Kings of Leon.

But would Garrett blacklist any of his political songs that weren’t in line with Labor policy, such as “Beds Are Burning” about indigenous land rights or “US Forces” about U.S. military policy?

“We won’t be trying to sort of censor what we’re doing at all,” Garrett told radio station 2UE in a recent interview.

“We’ve got a great conviction that as a band we created all this work and people are going to want to come and see us and listen to us play. We’ll pick the songs which we think will work for the event.”

Garrett said he’d enjoy performing again but would also be happy to return to the political stage on Monday morning.

Garrett, who co-founded the Nuclear Disarmament Party in 1984 and also held roles in Greenpeace and the Australian Conservation Foundation, faced some criticism when he entered parliament for modifying some of his earlier views to Labor Party lines.

But others supported his decision to try to implement change from within and joining the now ruling Labor Party rather than siding with the minority Australian Greens.

“I think it’s a tremendous opportunity and a real privilege to be able to do what we’re doing but I’m completely in the groove in terms of my work as a government minister and I’ll go straight back into that,” he said.

Editing by Miral Fahmy

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