Tensions are rising within the New South Wales Greens over former state election campaign manager Chris Harris’ decision to publish a series of “satirical” blog posts referring to the NSW party as “a sort of leaderless, accountability-less morass” and comparing the organisation to George Orwell’s dystopian novel Animal Farm.
The former national campaign co-ordinator for the federal party, who was the NSW state election campaign manager — effectively the branch’s most senior employee — at the time he wrote the articles, at one point joked that the NSW Greens are “just like the Abbott government; no real leader” and that “half the parts run clockwise and the other half anti-clockwise”.
In a post titled “Understanding the Madhouse”, penned after the election and now not publicly available, Harris described the problems he had encountered leading up to the poll, complaining that, other than him, the party had “really just one full-time and two part-time staff members” three months out from the election.
“No problems running an election campaign then,” he added.
Taking a swipe at the “carnage and confusion” created by the notoriously decentralised structure of the NSW Greens, Harris continues:
“There are also the parallel structures. Not for the NSW Greens a simple hierarchical structure with an executive officer at the ‘top’ and everyone else working with that person. Historically the NSW organisation, like the MPs, has had no leadership.
“Like Animal Farm all the staff were created equal and they reported to a Committee of Management (COM) an entirely volunteer body none of whom necessarily have ever managed an organisation. But six months prior to the election the organisation finally appointed an executive officer to manage the day to day operations.”
“Always a good time to be trying to create order out of chaos,” he wrote, before going on to describe the “second parallel structure” of the state election campaign committee, which is “deliberately structured not to work well”.
“Each section of the party with a vested interest in access to resources is allowed to have a representative or at least a spokesperson, each of whom argues vigorously for their own vested interest.
“It’s a form of equal opportunity nepotism.”
He also mentioned that the NSW Greens did not have a communications co-ordinator at the time, which, he says, “may seem strange for an organisation the sole function of which is to communicate”.
Asked about his intentions behind the posts, Harris backpedalled. He told Crikey, “it’s supposed to be satire. Satire is by nature a gross exaggeration. It says at the beginning of each post very clearly that it’s satire. If you’re taking what is supposed to be a satirical blog as truthful, that would not be accurate reporting.”
The disclaimer at the beginning of each post included: “Warning: this is a blog. It’s not supposed to be taken seriously … It’s supposed to be funny. If it’s not then that’s your problem …”
He says he was told to take down the posts by others in the party “because some people felt it would be misinterpreted in the way you appear to have misinterpreted it.
“The Greens are no more or less chaotic than any other organisation I have ever worked in, including government — try the Abbott government for starters — the media or large corporations. In fact the level of organisation within the NSW Greens and the election campaign were actually quite good — which is why we won five seats when no one expected that,” he said.
But others within the party are not seeing it that way. “There’s a bit of a shitfight brewing” over Harris’ comments, said one Greens member, who described it as Harris “aggressively attacking party structures and office-bearers”.
There is also discontent over the way resources were divided in the lead-up to the election.
The “inability to maintain our vote outside of Newtown and Balmain and the failure to win the third seat has become the dominant theme internally post election,” the Greens source added. The failure to elect a third-placed upper house candidate has been blamed by some on the campaign’s decision to pour significant resources into the lower house seats of Balmain and Newtown.
Citing the official goals of winning Balmain, Newtown and a third upper house seat, Harris writes:
“These goals were set by the State Delegates Council (state council). Very noble goals indeed. The problem is that aside from the local groups around Newtown, Balmain, Lismore and Ballina none of the local groups on state council which voted for these goals actually supported them.
“This is called ‘in principal’ [sic] support — it’s a bit like often washed jocks — useful in theory but absolutely useless when support really required. In the NSW Greens ‘in principle’ means you support something when nothing is at stake but then argue vigorously for the opposite outcome if your previous in principle support means other people get the dollars or the power.”
Alluding to a colleague’s New Zealand accent, he jokes that the state election campaign committee, or SECC, might be more appropriately known as SUCK. “It like many Greens NSW bodies manages to be less than the sum of its parts.”
The claims come after Crikey revealed tensions within the party around its campaign strategy for the state seat of Sydney.
*To read what Harris wrote about the Greens factions around the country, click here.