It’s been a good couple of weeks for Greens Derangement Syndrome in the press gallery. It kicked off last week, with James Massola’s report on Richard Di Natale, the farm he owns jointly with his wife, and the hiring of au pairs to help with the child-wrangling.
“Greens leader Richard Di Natale failed to declare his family farm in Victoria’s Otway Ranges for 15 months …” Massola’s article opened with breathlessly.
Great get, except it wasn’t true. As Massola explained further down the article, the farm — which was a property in his wife Lucy Quarterman’s family, and thus jointly owned by marriage — had been declared on the register of business interests. It had also been declared on the register of spouse’s interests, which is a confidential register.
The comparison to David Feeney’s Northcote house imbroglio was thus ludicrous. Feeney had entirely omitted his Northcote house — one of three he and his wife own, plus her Canberra flat (owned by a “trust”, funny word here), which she rents to him for his parliamentary allowance — for two years. The place was simply invisible, until he was dobbed in.
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Di Natale’s partner’s farm was always on the register — indeed, on two of them. Di Natale and partner had made an error in not declaring it as a residence not a business, under his name. By no means is that a serious contempt of Parliament, since the intent to declare the property was clear.
Doubtless, David Feeney simply had a two-year mind slip in not declaring the property at all — but a cynical person might conclude that its absence from any register was convenient to an old Labor hack running in an old Labor seat and unwilling to own up to a $6 million-plus portfolio. It’s the lack of any declaration that makes it a serious contempt.
On the au pair front, Massola also had a degree of misconstruction, the first half of his story dependent on calculating out the room plus board plus pay — about $450-$500 per week — as covering a 40-hour week. Yet the Fair Work Commission’s definition of “au pairing” is clear as crystal – an au pair is not a nanny, and not a full-time cook/cleaner. It’s not permitted to oblige them to take sole care of the children, without a parent present, which limits the hours.
The Fair Work Commission’s definition allows for the fact that the role is an odd one, incorporating board and cash, and usually part of extended travel. There was no reason not to calculate the rate on the basis of 20-25 hours a week — at which point it is entirely within minimum wage rates.
If the episode suggests anything, it’s probably that such positions should have a few more regulations attached to them — such as the keeping of time sheets, and giving Helga/Lars/Sky a Fair Work contact leaflet, so they know their rights and recourse.
But even with those caveats — which appear to have been worked into Massola’s article after Di Natale’s media flack informed him of the full detail of the matter — the thing was off and racing. The Oz gave it a big splash in the middle of the week — where a labour law academic repeated the error that an au pair’s job was a 40-hour-week gig — and it was as useful in reminding people that the Greens are now a party drawn from the professional strata of society as it was for anything else.
Last night, 7.30 got into the game — running an equivalent of the famous old “Labor Split Looms” headline that Packer newspapers were said to have permanently set up in lead type in decades past — with a “NSW Greens split looms” story about the fact that, gasp, there are factions in the Greens, and gasp, some of them were rather to the left once.
For years there has been conflict between one group in the NSW Greens that wants the state branch conformed to a national organisation, and another group, drawn from the left, which would like to keep a degree of branch autonomy. There was a story there — with a recently appointed administrator taking the party to the Fair Work Commission — but it was wrapped in a shopworn and inaccurate portrayal of the NSW branches factions, of which there are three: the Green greens, the “watermelons” (red inside, green outside), who are drawn from ex-Trotskyist inner-city groupings, and the “Eastern Bloc” (haha) comprising those whose history tied them to the more, erm, official representatives of the Marxist left in decades past. The report elided the last two — and actually disappeared the Eastern Bloc altogether (yes, appropriate, ha bloody ha).
The fact that there are three groupings, in different alliances, is one reason why the NSW Greens have stayed together. In any case, NSW reds have always been pretty Green — the “green bans” movement of the 1970s started by the Communist-aligned Builders Labourers Federation was the first major green-red movement in the Western world. The struggles against the wholesale destruction of Sydney by its roads corporation was pioneered by the Trotskyist group led by Nick Origlass in the 1960s and ’70s. The German Greens were founded after both the Green bans and the formation of the Tasmanian UTG party, as a Green political party in 1972.
Which is why the NSW Greens split is always being forecast but never occurs, no matter how bracing the factional battles sometimes become. And if the show had wanted an accurate guide to it, it could have done better than having as its sole talking head David Burchell, long-time ex-editor of Australian Left Review, and a man who is famous for lecturing the left on the tyrannical pulse buried deep within its bosom blah blah, which he is in a position to know because he joined the Communist Party in the 1970s — the 1970s! — before going on to be a News Corp op-ed writer for a few years.
Burchell hates the Greens with a passion, mainly because he’s still railing against the Greens from 20 years ago — telling the ABC that the party is divided between hardened leftists, and the types who are more “anarchist”. Anarchist? This is the Greens 2016. There’s no time to be anarchist. Someone has to get home so the au pair can go boogie-boarding. It’s not easy having Greens Derangement Syndrome, but it is set to continue for a while longer.