A NSW Greens factional divide reminiscent of the ALP-DLP split has spilled into the open following an acrimonious weekend pre-selection that saw Cate Faehrmann elected as the party’s NSW Senate candidate.
A myriad of candidate complaints, SMS sniping and intimidation of the returning officer is now threatening to lay bare the growing schism that pits forces aligned to Senator Lee Rhiannon and NSW convener James Ryan against the green-tinged Faehrmann and vocal anti-BDS upper houser Jeremy Buckingham.
Faerhmann beat off Ryan for the winnable first position by 56.8% to 43.2% on Saturday. But while the first ballot received coverage, a second to select the Greens’ candidate in the event of a double dissolution election indicates Rhiannon’s support remains strong, with the Senator trouncing Faerhmann by 69% to 31%. (Read the full count of the NSW ballot here and the DD ballot here).
Upper house MPs John Kaye and David Shoebridge round out the Rhiannon faction while Jamie Parker in Balmain is regarded as a Rhiannon supporter but has been up to his neck in local matters. On the other side of the aisle lies Faehrmann, Buckingham and Jan Barham, who also draws support from her regional Byron Bay fiefdom. Straddling the divide, but probably tilting more to the Rhiannon faction, lies popular grassroots figure Mehreen Faruqi.
In ructions scarily reminiscent of the worst examples of ALP infighting, “the entire preselection was marred by various complaints against candidates, complaints against the returning officer, culminating in leaks in the final week”, one senior party source told Crikey.
The internal war will add to widely-held fears that the party could tear itself asunder in the wake of Bob Brown’s exit from the Senate in June.
The stoush follows Crikey‘s revelations last week that Rhiannon and a staff member had penned an op-ed piece bagging out her own party for accepting a $1.7 million donation from web entrepreneur Graeme Wood to pay for television ads during the 2010 federal election campaign. That allegation, according to a leaked comments thread from the party’s locked internal website, show members were aware that Rhiannon had written the piece at the start of April.
Norman Thompson admitted he made a “terrible mistake” in submitting the item to Crikey and that it “was the first article under my name that I myself did not write”. A formal complaint has been lodged by Buckingham and his staffer David Mallard over the scandal.
“There is a significant factional war going on in the party, and MPs on both sides have been bomb throwers,” one Rhiannon-aligned figure told Crikey on the condition of anonymity because they weren’t authorised to speak on the matter. “In the context of an onslaught against her character, Lee overwhelmingly won the DD vote and trounced Cate.”
But a rival drew the exact opposite conclusion: “Make no mistake, Cate’s preselection victory is a massive defeat for the party hierarchy, who were supremely confident that Cate would be seen as a ‘renegade’ who would never again win a party preselection.”
The cleavage is set to reveal itself again in coming months with preselections due for the key federal seats of Grayndler and Sydney, in addition to Faehrmann’s upper house vacancy. Crikey understands Faruqi will have strong support to run for Grayndler (seen as more winnable than Sydney) and also the vacant NSW upper house spot, which under Greens rules will be filled by a woman.
Tension is also burbling on other fronts. Last December, an extraordinary motion was submitted to the party’s State Delegates Council calling on Faehrmann, Buckingham, and Barham to resign from parliament over their BDS stance made media headlines. But what went unreported was that James Ryan’s group, the Cessnock-Kurri Greens, had submitted the proposal and that Ryan was absent from the SDC meeting, apparently on holidays.
Another flashpoint is the disciplining of Buckingham by the party’s Committee of Management (read the gag order here) that ended with Buckingham apologising for briefing the media and not handling issues over donations reform internally. He wasn’t happy about it and in an indication of Rhiannon’s control, nine out of 39 groups on the supreme SDC refused to support the apology. The complaint against Rhiannon and Thompson has been thought of in some quarters as a brutal revenge attack.
Others have been more sanguine, suggesting the party may be able to patch things up without future media leaks. One player told Crikey that “both sides are trying to make it out as though this preselection was a huge win for them when in reality all that really happened was a popular sitting senator was re-endorsed [Rhiannon] and a sitting state MP with significant profile [Faehrmann] beat a bunch of rank and file members”.