Allegations of sexual misconduct made against New South Wales MP Jeremy Buckingham have recently thrown the Greens into turmoil. On Tuesday, Buckingham, who allegedly inappropriately touched a former staffer in 2011, lost the confidence of party leader Richard Di Natale and other senior figures. But despite these calls to step aside, Buckingham has vowed to contest the next election.
How did we get to this point of open warfare?
May 2018: the complaint is lodged
A complaint is lodged accusing NSW Greens MP Jeremy Buckingham of inappropriate behaviour at an event in August 2011. The incident is referred to Workdynamic Australia, an independent investigator. The complaint is lodged under the Greens’ anti-sexual harassment policy which was introduced a month earlier.
August 2, 2018: ABC exposes Buckingham allegations
ABC’s 7.30 airs an episode concerning several alleged incidents of sexual misconduct by Greens MPs and staffers. Ella Buckland, the former Greens’ research assistant who reported the Buckingham allegations, goes public. Buckland told the program that after a night of drinking, Buckingham touched her inappropriately and kissed her neck at his house in Newtown in Sydney’s inner west. In a statement made to the program, Buckingham calls the allegations false, and says female witnesses can corroborate his version of events.
In the same episode, journalist Lauren Ingram claims she had been sexually assaulted by a Greens staffer in 2015. Holly Brooke, a former NSW Greens co-convenor claims she was indecently assaulted by a party member last year. The episode pointed to a chronic failure to adequately deal with complaints in the Greens.
Rory Markham, a lawyer representing Buckland and other female complainants tells the program: “I have never seen a more amateur organisation and an organisation that has little to no organisational structure to deal with very serious issues of volunteer protection.” A number of women tell the program that when they made allegations of sexual assault, they were “encouraged to stay silent, to think of the greater good of the party”.
Di Natale offers an apology to the women and states the Australian Greens are “working with Greens NSW to review and strengthen their complaint handling process”.
Writing for Crikey, Brooke argues that the increasing professionalisation of the Greens, and prioritisation of electoral success above activist politics had led to a willingness to sweep incidents of sexual misconduct under the carpet in order to preserve the party’s reputation.
August 14 2018: Buckingham survives expulsion bid
At the NSW state delegates council, proposals to suspend Buckingham’s portfolio responsibilities and remove him from the Legislative Council ticket fail despite getting a majority vote. The proposals receive respective majorities of 65% and 60%, both falling short of the 75% required for them to pass.
Attempts to remove Buckingham appear to be part of a larger schism between the party’s left and right factions. It’s reported that members of the right initially try to block the motion, triggering a walkout.
September 11, 2018: Buckingham claims he is cleared
Workdynamic concludes that there is insufficient evidence to substantiate Buckland’s complaint. In a statement, Buckingham claims he has been cleared of any wrongdoing, and that the complaint was politically motivated:
I’m glad the day has finally arrived when I’ve been cleared. It’s been incredibly difficult and damaging to have these false allegations made public and used by certain people to try to destroy me.
In response to Buckingham’s statement, however, the NSW Greens said the investigation had not yet been concluded, and expressed disappointment at Buckingham’s pre-emptive release of the findings.
NSW Greens convenor Rochelle Flood states “the report does not make any finding that the complaint was false or vexatious”.
October 25, 2018: national convenors move against Buckingham
New Matilda reports that Buckingham is under fire from state and federal party offices over his claim that Buckland’s complaint was vexatious and politically motivated. A letter from the party’s national convenors to the NSW convenors indicates Buckingham may have breached clauses of the Greens’ anti-sexual harassment policy in his statement made in September. The letter invites Buckingham to address the National Council over their concerns, and to apologise to Buckland.
November 13-16 2018: senior Greens abandon Buckingham
NSW Greens MP Jenny Leong makes a speech under parliamentary privilege calling on Buckingham not to contest the upcoming election over allegations of “sexual violence”. Senator Mehreen Faruqi joins Leong in calling for Buckingham to resign.
“The culture of sexism, harassment and unwanted sexual advances in society in general and in politics in particular must change,” Leong and Faruqi say.
By the evening, the party’s federal leader Richard Di Natale joins calls for Buckingham to resign.
But not everyone in the party is behind Buckingham’s shafting. Cate Faehrmann, who recently replaced Faruqi in the NSW upper house, stands by her colleague, saying she is angry at the complaint being used as a “political weapon”.
On Thursday, NSW MP Justin Field joins Faehrmann in support of Buckingham, arguing Leong’s statement was “an orchestrated political hit”:
Jenny’s statement was first and foremost an opportunistic effort to destroy and a continuation of a relentless effort by some in the Greens to use this complaint to force Jeremy out of the party.
Buckingham also retains some support among local branches. In an email to members, Nepean convenor Patrick Darley-Jones describes the affair as “a vendetta against one of our MPs”.
Meanwhile, the Victorian Greens face a storm of their own, after a video emerges of Angus McAlpine, state candidate for Footscray, rapping about date rape and using homophobic slurs.
Buckingham refuses to step aside, saying he intends to contest the 2019 election.
If you or someone you know is impacted by sexual assault call 1800RESPECT on 1800 737 732 or visit 1800RESPECT.org.au. In an emergency, call 000.