Greens Senator Lee Rhiannon and her media adviser ghost-wrote a controversial article attacking her own party for accepting a $1.68 million donation from internet entrepreneur Graeme Wood.
The article in question — ostensibly written by Norman Thompson, director of Rhiannon’s Democracy4Sale project — was published in Crikey in February. It was submitted as a response to a piece by The Power Index‘s Paul Barry in which he accused Rhiannon, a fierce opponent of big political donations, of hypocrisy.
Thompson’s article raised the ire of some in the party for arguing “it appears the Greens are in the same league as the old parties”. It also stated:
“These days, I am not so much congratulated on the Greens great work in cleaning up political donations as asked if the party has sold out for taking $1.68m from one individual … I know that Lee, having led the Greens NSW’s influential campaign to clean up political donations for nearly a decade, has queried the value of accepting this donation.”
Although he submitted the op-ed under his name, Thompson now says: “The piece was written in Lee Rhiannon’s office.”
Thompson, who has been a close friend of Rhiannon’s for a decade, says he feels “horrible” and “very guilty” about putting his name to the article.
“I don’t want to get Lee in more trouble, but I do feel she made a mistake. That’s my personal opinion … She’s a wonderful woman and I don’t know why she did it.”
Crikey can also reveal that Jeremy Buckingham, a Greens MP in the NSW upper house, and David Mallard, convenor of the Central West Greens, have lodged an internal complaint about the article with the NSW Greens. It’s understood that Fiona Byrne, the deputy convenor of the NSW Greens, is investigating whether any party rules have been broken.
In a written response to the complaint, obtained independently by Crikey, Thompson gives a lengthy explanation of how the article came about:
“On Friday the 3rd of February, I received a text message from Alison Orme in Senator Lee Rhiannon’s office. She asked me to ring her in order to discuss a response to an item by Paul Barry on Crikey the previous day [in which Rhiannon was criticised for being hypocritical] … Alison asked if I would be willing to submit under my name a rebuttal of Barry’s item … I was informed that the rebuttal was being written in Lee’s office and would be emailed to me.”
According to Thompson, Rhiannon made personal changes to the piece — which was submitted to Crikey without any editing on his part.
“I regret that I did not consider my agreement to submit this rebuttal in my name more carefully and, following subsequent events, wish to apologise for being part of what I believe was both critical of the Greens and damaging to the party,” he said.
When the piece was published, the Senate privileges committee was examining the relationship between Bob Brown, Christine Milne and Graeme Wood.
“The article was not well received in Canberra,” one Greens insider told Crikey. “It was the cause of some embarrassment. It was waved around in the Senate by Eric Abetz.”
The Australian also followed up the piece, using it as evidence of a “widening division” within the Greens on the issue of donations.
In a statement to Crikey today, Rhiannon said she has not breached any party rules:
“My office worked on the article with Dr Norman Thompson. In the time I worked with Norman and the Democracy4Sale team we often collaborated on articles and submissions, and often edited each other’s articles. Norman always determined the final version of any article he submitted.
“The article defended the Greens NSW and myself in relation to Paul Barry’s criticism, and also offered an explanation as to why the Australian Greens accepted the large donation. The article has no criticism or implied criticism of another Greens MP.”
Jeremy Buckingham and Fiona Byrne both declined to comment when contacted.