What is happening in the NSW Greens? That’s the worried question I often encounter. The short answer is: google Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (but more of that in a minute). A long and misleading answer advanced by people like ex-Greens member Jeremy Buckingham is that socialist factions have taken over, in some kind of carefully organised infiltration operation.
What this claim fails to examine are the changes in political thinking taking place not just inside the Greens, or driven by some nefarious group of “infiltrators”, but playing out across Australia and, indeed, around the globe.
Left-of-centre politics in many countries in the past few years has been marked by two radicalisation waves. The first was the Sanders/Corbyn one, which rehabilitated a critical attitude towards capitalism and sympathy for “democratic socialism” as the alternative. It’s a scarcely surprising development, given obscene levels of inequality, unethical corporate behaviour (especially in the finance sector) and the accelerating degradation of our living environment. This was always bound to play out in Australia in the Greens because the Labor Party lacks anyone remotely able to play the Sanders or Corbyn role.
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The second advance was the global Me Too movement, reacting against male abuse of power in employment and the legal system. This movement has found natural support in the NSW Greens, with its strong feminist tradition. Historically, every Greens senator from NSW has been a woman, and more than half of the party’s state MPs have been women.
This is where Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez comes in. AOC, as she is known, is emblematic of these global political changes. Just 29 years old, AOC was elected to Congress in November for a New York district as an out-and-proud Democratic socialist and feminist.
In last year’s preselection for top spot on the Greens ticket for the upper house, Jeremy Buckingham was caught in the headlights of these two political advances. His main opponent, David Shoebridge, stood very clearly on an eco-Corbyn platform. His campaign slogan was an acknowledged rip-off from British Labour’s election slogan: for the many not the few, for the planet not for profit.
Shoebridge argued that the curbing of the power of corporations and developers, and more democratic rights for citizens, were essential if we wanted to protect our environment. Similarly, he advocated more progressive taxation of the rich and limits on executive pay, as well as a healthy public sector, as the way to more social equality. This radical social advocacy distinguished him very markedly from the more conservative Buckingham, and he won easily.
Allegations of sexual misconduct were made against Buckingham after the preselection voting but, halfway through the voting, social media lit up with a photo of him indulging in a seemingly lewd gesture at a Greens function. This didn’t help matters.
After the preselection, which placed Buckingham in the third (and probably unwinnable) spot on the ticket, the sexual harassment allegation surfaced. A key element in the Me Too movement is the default position of believing the survivors of assault, so it was for many Greens members in this case and they began the push to remove him from the ticket entirely. Responses from Buckingham and his advisers — saying that the claims were part of a “factional smear” — only widened the opposition to his presence on the ticket. Even the federal party room pressed him to withdraw from the ticket.
Buckingham has now split from the Greens and some of his more conservative fellow MPs are contemplating joining him.
In no way do I want to overplay the impact of the radicalising elements in the NSW Greens, but there can be little doubt that most members see global warming and problems like critical water shortages as the result of the activities of corporations and a system based on infinite growth on a planet with finite resources. As for the alternative (or alternatives) to capitalism, much like AOC that is a conversation Greens are just beginning to have.
Whatever the growing strains happen to be for the Greens, the ecological dangers such as extreme heat, fire and floods, and the escalating unfairness most citizens now face mean the Greens — in parliament and out in our communities — will remain indispensable if we are to escape our worst dangers. There can be little argument with that. As proof, membership in the NSW Greens has resumed its upward trajectory after last year’s dip. Not all of them are fans of Sanders, Corbyn and AOC, but many of them are.
Hall Greenland was a founder of the Greens in Australia and is deputy convenor of the NSW Greens.