From the Crikey grapevine, the latest tips and rumours …

Greens split? NSW Greens members are bracing for bloodletting at the party’s annual State Delegates Council meeting this weekend. There’s even serious talk of frustrated Greens breaking away and forming their own party. The SDC is the NSW Greens’ ultimate decision-making body — it rules on contentious policy issues and allocates key positions.

The NSW Greens have long been the party’s Achilles heel at a federal level and so it was at the September 7 election: lead candidate Cate Faehrmann received only 7.8% of the primary vote. That’s the party’s worst performance since 2001. Faehrmann is aligned to the party’s environmentalist, reformist forces; on the other side of the fence are Lee Rhiannon’s “Eastern Bloc” troops, some of whom are ex-Trotskyists or Communists.

Faehrmann’s supporters are blaming the Eastern Bloc for the party’s poor showing in NSW — there are claims Faehrmann was blocked from appointing key personnel and that her campaign was not given sufficient resources. Some believe too much money was spent on Hall Greenland’s doomed bid to defeat Anthony Albanese in Grayndler. Greenland, who is close to Rhiannon, is now going up against Faehrmann for the powerful position of NSW Greens convenor.

Greens insiders tell Crikey the party’s reformist forces are so incensed at the Eastern Bloc faction that they are actively considering splitting from the Greens to form their own party. “I thought I was joining the party of Bob Brown, but it turned out the NSW Greens operate like a set of Communist cells,” a disillusioned insider said. “It’s a very troubled party beneath the surface.”

So how will things pan out this weekend? Greens insiders can send us an email and tell us what happened.

Australia Institute scrutinised. A reader has challenged whether the Leftie think tank the Australia Institute is all that it seems, asking “how can the Australia Institute claim ‘independence’ and ‘no formal political ties’ given the background of many staff members?”

Here’s how the group bills itself:

So how independent is the group? Here are the previous political links of some staff and board members, as disclosed on the AI website:

Richard Denniss (executive director) — was strategy adviser to ex-Australian Greens leader Bob Brown, chief of staff to ex-leader of the Australian Democrats Natasha Stott Despoja.

Serena Rogers (deputy director) — was media officer for senator Stott Despoja.

Kerrie Tucker (research fellow) — was ACT Greens MHA.

Lin Hatfield Dodds (chair of the board of directors) — ran for the Senate for the Greens in the the ACT in 2010 (this is not mentioned in the list of directors on the AI website).

Ged Kearney (board of directors) — current president of the ACTU.

Ben Oquist (board of directors) — was chief of staff to Greens leader Christine Milne and to former leader Bob Brown.

Crikey’s verdict? The group’s claim that it has no formal political ties stacks up. Yes, key figures at the Australia Institute have held formal roles with the Greens and the Democrats (and the unions and the ALP), and some of them have done so while working with the AI. But the claim is that the AI itself has “no formal political … ties,” and that appears to be correct.

The group’s claim to “independence” is spin — many groups say they are independent. It’s hard to define and disprove, so we can’t ping them for that. So long as the group continues to be transparent about its staff’s formal links to political parties, it’s hard to see a problem here.

We put this tip to the AI, who told us this:

“The Australia Institute has a diverse board, some of whom have been actively involved in politics but many of whom are esteemed academics and community figures with no party affiliations … The Australia Institute has never been reluctant to criticise any political party on the basis of our research. Recent examples of our criticism of the Greens can be found here and here and criticism of the ALP can be found here and here. We believe our independence is easily assessed by considering our willingness to express criticism of any political party where our research makes it appropriate to do so.”

Perhaps next week we’ll check out some Right-leaning think tanks and see if they’re upfront about key figures’ political ties? If you know of someone who’s not being entirely candid about their past, Ms Tips would love to know about it.

Bushfire hits home. Many Crikey readers will remember Allan Kessing, the whistleblower convicted (and given a suspended sentence) for leaking reports about Customs operations at Sydney airport to The Australian. You can read his account of that case here. Unfortunately we’ve heard that Kessing lost his Blue Mountains house in yesterday’s horrific bushfire, although we’re relieved to hear he was physically unharmed. His brother James Kessing told us the story:

“Allan has a block of land at Mount Victoria in the Blue Mountains, west of Sydney, he was up there by himself yesterday, trying to protect his house from the fires coming from the Lithgow area. He told me it was quite eerie up there before the fires hit. Then I got a message around 5pm saying everything was gone, there had been a sudden wind change and fires had broken out around Mount York Rd, Mount Victoria. He tried to fight it with his water pump, generator, hose and sprinkler system but the speed and ferocity of the firestorm was overwhelming. When the Rural Fire Service volunteers arrived they told him he must have a had a close escape, half his beard was burnt off and he didn’t realise.

Allan is completely devastated by the loss of the property and his extensive, lifelong book collection. Allan has only recently completed the construction of the house. He has poured his life savings into what was meant to be his mountain refuge from the pressures of his ‘whistleblower’ conviction. This brave Australian deserves better than this.”

He certainly does. Our sympathies go to Allan.

Malala meets FLOTUS. Crikey readers’ person of the year for 2012, Pakistani teenager Malala Yousafzai, who was shot in the head by the Taliban, continues to make her mark on the world stage. We thought our readers would like an update on who she’s been meeting (via a tweet today from Michelle Obama).

*Heard anything that might interest Crikey? Send your tips to [email protected] or use our guaranteed anonymous form

Peter Fray

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