Lee Rhiannon supporters inside the NSW Greens are dancing in the aisles after a smackdown of party rivals at the weekend’s State Delegates Council on the weekend. So what will this mean for the national Greens?
Lee Rhiannon forces inside the NSW Greens are celebrating a clean sweep of the party’s powerful State Delegates Council ballots on Saturday, with veteran activist Hall Greenland convincingly beating off failed Senate candidate Cate Faehrmann in the race for convener.
Greenland, who ran against Labor frontbencher Anthony Albanese in Grayndler at the federal election, romped it home on primary votes in the ballot, securing 20 delegates against 14 for Faehrmann and four for Newcastle candidate Michael Osborne (there were 2 abstentions). On a 2-candidate-preferred basis Greenland triumphed 23 to 15.
But exclusive internal sub-analysis of the various Greens’ group voting intentions, obtained by Crikey, shows that eight groups ticked “no support” for Faehrmann, including her own Petersham-Newtown branch. “No support” is usually reserved for unusual candidates and special circumstances.
Under NSW Greens rules, the 50 local Greens groups are each represented by one vote at SDC. Decisions on who to vote for are reached in private meetings in the lead-up to voting day with delegates bound by the decision. Forty-two delegates turned up on Saturday.
A senior Greens source told Crikey that Rhiannon’s full-spectrum domination indicated the damaging spats of earlier eras had been surpassed. “This is the new normal … it really felt like the last thrash of the dying Ben Oquist octopus.”
Oquist resigned as national leader Christine Milne’s chief-of-staff last month, citing “fundamental differences of opinion on strategy,” and then went on a taxpayer-funded European study trip. The re-orientation is significant for the national Australian Greens, where Milne can now operate away from the influence of Oquist and the shadow of party elder Bob Brown.
The source slammed simplistic analysis of the divisions within the NSW party, especially the Red-baiting tendency to refer to Rhiannon forces as the “Eastern Bloc” and Faehrmann’s group as “Big G” Green enviro-neo-liberals on bikes. In fact, the party had embarked on a substantive pan-factional generational shift.
Crucially, a bevy of usually independent NSW North Coast groups rounded behind Greenland and Rhiannon on Saturday, indicating her support is now spread evenly over the whole state and not just confined to her two “home” groups in Sydney’s Eastern suburbs.
Other key ballots included the race for secretary, which went to North Coast candidate Carol Vernon unopposed, and the election of NSW conference delegates to national conference — NSW state MPs receive one delegate and MLC and Rhiannon loyalist David Shoebridge smashing Faehrmann fan and fellow MLC Jeremy Buckingham 27 to 12.
There were also widespread recriminations over the process used to parachute anti-coal seam gas campaigner Penny Blatchford, a Gurley farmer, into the number-three spot on the NSW Senate ticket. Blatchford, whose candidacy was announced just two-and-a-half weeks out from the election, was at one point getting the most media of any Green in the federal election, and managed to top the below-the-line polling (after Faehrmann, of course) with 675 votes, beating number-two candidate James Ryan, who garnered 429 votes. In the Nationals heartland, Blatchford managed to pull an unheard-of Greens primary vote of above 20% in a handful of booths where her volunteers were handing out how-to-vote cards.
The otherwise calm and considered two-day talkfest at the King’s Cross Rex Centre featured excellent roast beef and chicken sandwiches in addition to the usual falafel and quinoa-heavy offerings.
On the Sunday, some technical policy on coal seam gas was resolved, but after the fireworks on Saturday most delegates had worn themselves out. A review of Faehrmann’s Senate campaign produced some fascinating dialogue when gun campaign coordinator Jenny Leong’s efforts appeared to have been controversially pilloried.
“Sure, there were some difficulties appointing people to [Faehrmann’s] campaign for a variety of factors, the most significant of which is her … personality. But the campaign staff rose above or ignored those personal problems and delivered a professional campaign that did NSW Greens members proud. Unfortunately buckets of hard, intelligent work by committed people is still no guarantee of electoral success.”
The Greens’ national conference will take place in three weeks’ time in Brisbane and will feature a Victorian Greens-led debate on how to elect the party leader, with the possibility of opening up the ballot to the general membership in the mode of the ALP. Currently the leader is decided by caucus in the aftermath of each election.
It is likely there will be serious pressure to open up the conference to the media for the full three days.