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Australia

Jul 3, 2017

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For both the Liberal Party and the Greens, their NSW branches are proving to be problematic at the moment, in different contexts, but on much the same basic issue: how far should a parliamentary political party represent the views of its membership rather than the will of the wider electorate?

The NSW Greens argue that their power to bind senators to vote in a certain way is more “democratic” than allowing the federal party room to reach decisions itself, because it gives NSW Greens members a real say in policy. That’s certainly more democratic internally. It isn’t more democratic per se, however. In fact, that a group of unelected officials and members, reminiscent of Labor’s “faceless men”, can require elected politicians to vote a certain way is arguably less democratic. The logical extension of that position is that Lee Rhiannon needn’t bother ever going to Canberra — the state branch can simply tell her colleagues and the Senate which way she’d vote and save everyone the expense of her attending the Senate, since what transpires there — such as negotiations over legislation — are apparently irrelevant.

In the case of the NSW Greens, the views of the hard left on what constitutes “democratic” should be taken with a pinch of salt anyway. This is the branch that, hoping to win Anthony Albanese’s eminently gettable seat of Grayndler, put forward a doctrinaire Trotskyite who was of the view that an Abbott government was preferable to a more progressive government because it would radicalise people more. Albanese was duly and comfortably returned.

And this is a pattern with the NSW Greens — it under-performs electorally. Whereas the Victorian Greens picked up nearly one and a half quotas in 2016, the NSW Greens couldn’t muster one, and their vote actually fell in the Senate — a poor performance in what should be a strong state for the party. this, apparently, hasn’t been any cause for introspection on behalf of the NSW party, which appears more focused at the moment on fighting other branches and the federal parliamentary party. 

The fight within the NSW Liberals over greater power for the party membership is similarly about perceptions of democracy. As with the NSW Greens, some NSW Liberals want the party base to wield real power, rather than — as Tony Abbott put it on the weekend — “pay up, turn up and shut up”. But it’s also about the chafing of a highly conservative party membership under a party leadership controlled by moderates (with help from a sub-group of conservatives) and toward a federal government that is looking to bolster its electoral prospects by governing from the centre.

There’s nothing particularly new here — parties have long wrestled with the fact that their declining, ageing memberships tend to be more extreme than the electorate more broadly; giving them too much power risks making a party unelectable. Sometimes that dynamic can have a happy ending — if the electorate is moving in that direction. Jeremy Corbyn, once regarded as unelectable (and that includes me) in fact has benefited both from astonishing Tory incompetence and a sharp swing to the left in the UK electorate. But no one outside the lunatic fringe at News Corp is seriously suggesting the Australian electorate is ready to lurch to the right and embrace the kind of agenda Tony Abbott and his ilk are pushing.

In the case of the NSW Greens, however, the blunt solution is to not permit the parliamentary party to resolve this tension creatively and on a case by case basis, but to impose a blanket restriction. Meanwhile, Labor can’t believe its luck that not merely is the government roiled by division, but the party to the left of it is as well.

Australia

Jun 29, 2017

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The federal Greens say their decision to suspend NSW Senator Lee Rhiannon from the party room is not actually about Rhiannon and whether she should have campaigned against the Gonski school funding legislation while the party was in negotiations about it. It’s really about ending a power struggle between the NSW and federal branches.

Yesterday evening, the federal Greens (minus Rhiannon) agreed to temporarily exclude Rhiannon from party room discussions and decisions on contentious government legislation, acting Greens whip Nick McKim says. It was a step short of permanent expulsion — one option that was suggested yesterday would have resulted in Rhiannon sitting as an “independent” elected Greens senator. The Greens say the suspension is part of a move for the National Council of the Greens to work with the NSW branch to “end the practice of New South Wales MPs being bound to vote against the decision of the Australian Greens Party Room”. That is to say, the NSW branch can currently decide on a position and bind its members to vote in line with that position, even if it contradicts the position the federal branch of the party wants to take. 

The federal Greens party room effectively votes as a bloc of 10 and operates on consensus, in which the federal party position is the position voted by every elected member. There are some exceptions, however; a member can vote against a policy if it is against his or her conscience. It is understood Rhiannon could have used this clause to vote against the education funding legislation if she had wanted.

The issue, according to the elected members of the Greens federally, is that Rhiannon isn’t invoking the conscience exception and is instead being forced to vote in line with what the NSW branch of the Greens want, even if that goes against what her federal colleagues all decided on.

It has been a long-standing policy conflict between the NSW branch and the federal Greens party room — last causing ructions in 2014 when the Greens were opposed to an increase in the fuel tax and Rhiannon was canvassing the views of NSW Greens members on the policy. But the tipping point was the Gonski 2.0 negotiations.

Rhiannon previously questioned whether it was a “hanging offence” that she authorised leaflets to be distributed at the start of the long negotiation process between the government and the Greens over the schools funding legislation, but leader Richard Di Natale told ABC Radio National this morning that it wasn’t the leaflets but the ongoing policy conflict between the Australian Greens and the NSW branch that sparked the row. 

“What we have is in one state where a senator is bound to a particular position, it makes it impossible for us to have a process that is based on a consensus because they are bringing a fixed position into the party room.”

The issue was that while negotiations were ongoing between Di Natale, Greens education spokesperson Sarah Hanson-Young and the government, they were unaware what Rhiannon’s position would be.

Di Natale said suspending Rhiannon wasn’t a penalty, but an attempt to regain consensus in the party room. He said he would like Rhiannon to abstain from voting in the party room on issues on which her NSW branch-bound vote was in conflict with the rest of the party. 

Some NSW branch members have already been vocal in their opposition to the Australian Greens’ actions against Rhiannon, and the NSW co-convenors Debbie Gibson and Tony Hickey said in a statement overnight that the decision was “unconstitutional” and there was no support in the party to change the constitution to prevent binding NSW members to vote in line with the branch.

The NSW state delegates council will meet early next month to formalise a NSW Greens position on the Australian Greens decision.

Tips and rumours

Mar 14, 2017

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NSW Greens MP Jenny Leong has represented the seat of Newtown since its introduction in 2015, and it is exactly what you would expect from a Greens electorate. The area is described by Anthony Green as the state’s “newest, smallest and funkiest electorate”.

Newtown has a particular feel about it, and in response to concerns about the electorate’s safety and character, Leong — in conjunction with  the Newtown Neighbourhood Centre, Newtown Precinct Business Association and ACON health LTD — is holding a “protecting the Newtown Vibe” (yes, “vibe” is capitalised in the Newtown context, apparently) community meeting tomorrow night. She has also put out a community survey polling constituents on threats to this Newtown Vibe. It is a follow-up to the meeting of the same name back in June 2015. Attendees will be hearing what Vibe protection measures have been implemented since then, and “hear results of the Community Survey re the Vibe.”

Ms Tips will be interested to see how many of the suggestions put forward by the public during the first meeting have been implemented. Alongside calls for better and more visible policing and community organisations partnering with pubs to create a more inclusive atmosphere, there were calls for the decriminalising of street theatre (“Street theatre is invisible in Sydney, and so presumably against the law. Laws can be changed.”) and making all bouncers female. Personally, though, we think the attendee who wrote “violent responses should not be dismissed. The failure of liberalism requires us to ‘suspend’ its frameworks, and to abandon ‘law and order'” might be disappointed. Will this forum also decide to ban music videos filmed by Coldplay?

New South Wales

Nov 16, 2016

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Early in the morning in most Australian capital cities, they can be found meditating and exercising in matching yellow clothing while one in the group will find a busy walkway to stand and hand out flyers. Most people ignore them, but Falun Gong have caught the attention of the NSW Greens.

Falun Gong practitioners have been persecuted by the Chinese government since 1999. Those who are arrested are forced to denounce their beliefs, and those who don’t are tortured, forced into labour camps and imprisoned. Falun Gong members claim imprisoned members are forced to become live organ donors or are killed for their organs, which can be sold on the black market for up to US$250,000. The Chinese government denies prisoners are killed for their organs.

In 2014, China banned the harvesting of organs from prisoners, but a report released in June this year suggests while China puts its annual organ transplant statistics at around 10,000 per year, the actual number could be as high as 100,000, based on evidence gathered about the many hospitals equipped for organ donation compared to the low number of reported donations.

“That increased discrepancy leads us to conclude that there has been a far larger slaughter of practitioners of Falun Gong for their organs than we had originally estimated,” the report stated.

Falun Gong protesters have been making their case in the streets for years, and they are used to being ignored by passers-by. Greens New South Wales MLC David Shoebridge says they have long been ignored by Australian political parties, too. Shoebridge this month introduced a private members’ bill aimed at stopping people in New South Wales from going to China or anywhere else where there is a commercial transaction for organ transplants. The bill proposes criminal prosecutions and jail time of up to 25 years if the organ removal was likely to kill the donor.

He says the precise number of Australians going overseas for a transplant can’t be fully known because those people simply fall off the transplant register, but he says over the past 13 years, 176 Australians have been confirmed as going overseas for a transplant. Although none of the data shows whether the transplant was illegal, he estimates about half of them were.

Perhaps owing to the support Shoebridge has received from the Falun Gong community, and the ongoing turmoil in the Greens in New South Wales, Crikey heard rumours that Shoebridge might be “branch stacking” by signing up Falun Gong members in droves to the Greens ahead of a preselection contest next year. One source said it could be the first instance of “ethnic branch stacking in the Greens”.

Shoebridge laughed off the suggestion.

“I haven’t yet engaged in branch stacking within the party, and I wouldn’t start with a human rights issue.”

He has been actively investigating the issue of organ harvesting since 2012 and has been working on it since 2013 when a discussion paper was put out. He isn’t the only one; Greens MP Jamie Parker has also been involved in the work.

“It’s a very slow-burn, cunning plan of mine which I’m not even aware of,” he joked.

He says Falun Gong members might feel abandoned by the major parties, who “are willing to put the narrow financial interests of Chinese trade and investment ahead of pretty key human rights concerns”, but he says he is sure that the Falun Gong community has a wide range of political views.

“Undoubtedly we’ve got very strong support in the Falun Gong community but also from human rights organisation such as Australian Lawyers for Human Rights, strong support from the Vietnamese community as well academics from the University of Sydney and Macquarie University.”

A previous petition calling for the legislation received 294,745 signatures. When Shoebridge introduced the bill into New South Wales Parliament, the gallery was filled with practitioners of Falun Gong.

Shoebridge is hopeful that if the NSW legislation is successful, it might encourage other states and the Commonwealth to take it up. He says so far he has the unambiguous support of the Christian Democratic Party, and some members of the major parties have indicated their personal support for it. This week is the last sitting week of the year for New South Wales Parliament, however, meaning the legislation will not be debated until Parliament returns.

“I don’t think it is guaranteed we’ll get major party support, but I know for a fact there are individuals within all the parties in the New South Wales Parliament who support this legislation, and I only hope it can be decided on its merits rather than some party political prism,” he said.

Falun Gong practitioners are currently travelling to over 200 regional towns in Australia to draw attention to live organ harvesting.

New South Wales

Oct 10, 2016

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New South Wales Premier Mike Baird and Deputy Premier Troy Grant, leader of the Nationals, are both facing open revolt in their respective party rooms.

The overwhelming message from the rebels is: change course or we’ll change you.

The discontent is being driven by recent polling that shows the Coalition is neck-in-neck with Luke Foley’s Labor opposition, both on 50%, and Foley inching ahead as preferred premier.

What’s worse, all attempts by Baird’s media spinners — Imre Salusinszky, director of strategy and Clive Matheson, director of economic infrastructure and state priorities, both formerly of The Australian — have failed to stop the downward plunge.

The Coalition’s drop in fortunes has been dramatic. Only 18 months ago it won an impressive election victory and Baird was rated as the most popular politician in the nation.

[The real reason for Murdoch’s war on greyhounds]

How things have changed since then. The Coalition is now on the nose and mired in public odium over a long list of policy bungles:

  • The ill-conceived greyhound racing ban from July next year;
  • The massive cost over-runs on the cross-city WestConnex motorway, Australia’s biggest infrastructure project;
  • Utter mishandling of the pub lock-out laws, which trashed live entertainment and made Sydney’s “global city” ambitions a laughing stock;
  • Continued ransacking of TAFE and the promotion of the biggest rort of all, privately run vocation schools;
  • A community backlash from forced amalgamation of local councils, which has already caused sweeping Liberal losses in council elections on September 10;
  • Relocating the iconic Powerhouse Museum to Parramatta and handing its prime Darling Harbour site to property developers;
  • Appeasing the private security industry by planning to build three new privatised jails; and
  • Pandering to the health industry by rolling out plans for new hospitals to be run by private sector.

The political stakes are gravely high. Tonight’s meeting of National Party MPs is the main focus of attention, with rebels calling for the greyhound ban to be delayed from July 2017 to July 2020, a year after the next state election. Then the full cabinet will meet tomorrow to consider whether to retreat or march forward.

Baird is committed to the greyhound ban because “it is the right thing to do”, and he has the support of a majority of voters, who are repulsed by the slaughter of thousands of young and “used” greyhounds as well as the barbarity of “live baiting” exposed by ABC TV’s Four Corners. However, if cabinet postpones the ban, a backbench revolt could be averted and harmony restored — for the time being.

The search for a compromise is being driven by a looming byelection in the western NSW regional seat of Orange on November 12. Nationals fear that a voter backlash against the greyhound racing ban, fuelled by an anti-Nationals campaign supported by the gaming industry, will cost them the normally safe seat.

However, a Coalition “backflip” or “climb-down” will have significant political consequences for the Baird government. It will lead to the withdrawal of strategic support from Greens MPs — five in the upper house and three in the lower house — plus Mark Pearson MLC of the Animal Justice Party, on selected items of government legislation.

[Left and right revel in the pointless cruelty of greyhound racing]

If Greens MPs and Pearson decide to become “refuseniks”, the government’s legislative program will be in disarray because it does not have a majority in the upper house.

More lastingly, Baird will have been seen to be a “soft target” and a trimmer who can be forced under pressure to compromise. That approach will signify the beginning of the end for a premier who has always been in a hurry “to get things done”. With the initiative taken away from him, Baird’s mind will turn to other careers where he can still be “a change agent” on four or five times the salary. A return to merchant banking, perhaps?

While Orange and the Coalition leadership strains are claiming all the attention, a bigger byelection battle will be fought on November 12 in Wollongong, or “Steel City”, long-considered one of Labor’s safest “heartland” seats.

But Wollongong City lord mayor Gordon Bradbery, a popular independent, is set to take the seat vacated in August by veteran factional player Noreen Hay.

The loss of Wollongong would be a major blow to Opposition Leader Luke Foley, MP for Auburn, whose grip on the leadership remains shaky.

The Turnbull v Shorten Show is a sell-out in Canberra, but the Sydney sideshow, Baird v Foley, still has lots of thrills and spills to go.

News

Aug 26, 2016

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From the Crikey grapevine, the latest tips and rumours …

Midwinter Ball bidding opened. The first week of Parliament next week will also coincide with a much-delayed Midwinter Ball (which will be held at the very end of winter due to the election campaign). It’s a time for the press gallery, politicians and corporate sponsors to dress up and drink up in the hallowed halls of Parliament House. There’s a charity auction held every year, with bidding opening today. This year the money will go to the Australian Literacy and Numeracy Foundation, the excellent mobile shower service for homeless people Orange Sky Laundry, OzHarvest, The Big Issue, Companion House, and Look Good Feel Better organisation for women dealing with cancer.

The big-ticket item this year is a tour of Parliament House by the Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull. Fingers crossed he can show you the Monkey Pod meeting room where the so-called Delcons meet to discuss his overthrow. Or perhaps the office where MPs had to fake a birthday celebration in order to convince Tony Abbott and Peta Credlin they weren’t secretly planning to end Abbott’s prime ministership. The tour concludes with tea in the PM’s office — hopefully all the tea is spilled. That one is already at $5100, with punters clearly eager to have Parliament Malsplained to them.

Next up is a run with Bill Shorten, followed by a breakfast with Tanya Plibersek. Shorten took the John Howard tracksuit powerwalk to a new level during the last election campaign, making his daily runs a feature of his bid for the top job. He wasn’t successful, but his running time has greatly improved. That one has yet to have any bids on it with a starting price of $5000 — perhaps would-be bidders are too intimidated at the thought of keeping pace with Shorten.

If you fancy a night with Hollywood stars and Julie Bishop, a return business class trip to LA in January is up for grabs. That one already has a bid of $20,000. If you want to communicate with the minister for regional communications, you’ve also got the option of bidding for lunch with deputy nationals leader Fiona Nash, no bids on that one yet at $3000.

The final item is a dinner with four widely respected press gallery journos — Malcolm Farr, Mark Riley, Sue Dunlevy and Laura Tingle. That’s got one bid on it so far at $3000. Ms Tips thinks that perhaps an undervalued addition to the dinner would be a subeditor.

midwinteredit

Conservative GetUp’s campaign on frequent flyers. Won’t somebody please think of the frequent flyers? The Australian Taxpayers’ Alliance has decided to defend the right for big banks to charge exorbitant credit card fees, so that people can earn small numbers of frequent flyer points they will never use. According to the “Save our Rewards” website put up by the Australian Taxpayers’ Alliance:

“The Reserve Bank of Australia has just announced they are BANNING high-point earning credit cards and AMEX ‘companion’ cards — and frequent flyers stand to lose big. The banks have already started slashing reward point earns — and there are more cuts to come! But it’s not too late to fight back and save our rewards from extinction!”

saveourrewardsedit

As one of the helpful links the alliance has provided on the petition page, one of the two changes bans high fixed credit card surcharge fees from September this year, to a reasonable percentage of the purchase price. This means the fees on budget domestic flights would improve, while the fees on business and international flights would likely be increased, unless the airlines decide to cap the upper end of the fees.

The other change from July next year would cap interchange fees — the amount the card provider charges back to the banks per transaction — at 0.8% with a weighted average cap of 0.5% — below the 2.2% max today. This has led to some of the rewards schemes announcing that they’ll rejig their rewards program, and it’ll be a bit tougher to get that free flight than it was in the past. Annoying for those who like to maximise their points, but will going into bat for the banks and airlines stir up the grassroots movement the conservatives are hoping for?

Greens in turmoil. Some in the NSW Greens suspected that things would settle down once the preselection battle was over. A tipster informs us, however, the election of Justin Field to replace the late John Kaye in the NSW Legislative Council is already shifting the balance in the NSW branch of the Greens:

“This week there were more than a few whispers from MP’s as Greens members Jeremy Buckingham and Tamara Smith moved Field’s nomination. Even though the NSW Greens have always claimed that they were all co-leaders of the party, in the past it was either David Shoebridge or the late John Kaye from the so called ‘eastern bloc’ who did the nominating and were recognised as the defacto leadership of the NSW Parliamentary Party. With the election of Field, Buckingham now has the numbers against the eastern bloc and it looks like he is going to be prepared to use them.”

Living in De Nile. It is probably no surprise that long time anti-gay campaigner Fred Nile is pushing for the plebiscite to be delayed. In NSW Parliament on Wednesday, he asked state minister Duncan Gay whether NSW Premier Mike Baird  — who has no involvement in the plebiscite process at all — whether “the proposed plebiscite on the issue of two homosexual gay men being legally married in Australia” could be delayed to as late as September next year in order to not clash with “the New South Wales annual homosexual Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras parade” scheduled for the first weekend in March.

homosexualgay

We are shocked, shocked that he’s trying to delay the inevitable as long as possible. We suspect that old mate Nile (who recently used his legal right as a “heterosexual straight man” to marry for a second time) fears that any celebration and public acknowledgement that gay people exist during the plebiscite, might result in his side losing (more than polls already indicate they would). Also, why aren’t lesbians mentioned?

WA arts cuts. Not a good time to be reporting on the arts in WA, according to a tipster:

“After a rounds of redundancies to cull full-time staff, the axe is now falling on regular freelance arts contributors for The West Australian who are apparently being told their services are no longer required. Coming on the back of 10-year Arts Editor Stephen Bevis taking redundancy earlier this month, the local arts scene is concerned about the impact the loss of specialist writers will have on features and reviews, and ultimately the readers which make up their audiences. The arts section will apparently be written entirely in-house by journalists who may have little experience or familiarity with the arts scene.”

*Heard anything that might interest Crikey? Send your tips to boss@crikey.com.au or use our guaranteed anonymous form

News

Aug 16, 2016

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From the Crikey grapevine, the latest tips and rumours …

Don’t mention the data retention. Attorney-General George Brandis has an annual meeting set up with business leaders on issues of national security, under the name of ICONS (Industry Consultation on National Security). Essentially it’s to talk about espionage, trusted insiders, organised crime and terrorism — all the fun things. But it also includes a deregulation component, where the government asks what it can do to cut red tape.

Media was banned from the most recent event, in March 2016, but Brandis’ speaking notes (recently released through freedom of information) indicate the Attorney-General spoke about reducing red tape:

“The Turnbull Government is committed to eliminating any unnecessary regulatory burden on business, and cutting red tape. What is your organisation’s experience with national security regulation.”

The very next line indicates the government was prepared to face backlash to its data retention scheme, a year after the legislation passed:

dataretentiondefensive

A speech AGD secretary Chris Moraitis gave regarding foreign investment in critical infrastructure makes for amusing reading after the government’s decision to block the sale of Ausgrid to Chinese companies, and how the decision was dropped on the New South Wales government:

“Early and ongoing engagement with state and territory governments, however, will continue to be important to ensure potential risks are effectively managed through the relevant state based legislation and leases.

“For example, this type of arrangement was implemented in the recent privatisation of the NSW electricity transmission network. Commonwealth agencies worked with NSW officials to develop a suite of conditions and undertakings to address national interest considerations, which formed part of the lease licence conditions, before the process was finalised.”

Freedom Boy in Canberra. The rookies of the House of Representatives are in Canberra and learning how to do their new jobs. New member for Goldstein Tim Wilson used the Facebook Live video feature to give his followers a tour around his very bare parliamentary office. Viewers see the “long, thin, lifeless” corridors before getting an insight into where Wilson’s staff and the MP himself will sit. “Smells like a rented apartment that has just had its dry clean for the first time” is the verdict from Wilson, but Ms Tips is wondering how long it will be before the Parliament House Twitter account starts scolding new MPs for filming where they shouldn’t.

Tim Wilson facebook video

Staff envy. A small report in The Australian today says that Pauline Hanson’s One Nation Party and the Nick Xenophon Team will both be given funding for seven staffers for each of their representatives in the Senate, with NXT lower house MP Rebekha Sharkie also receiving seven staffers — that’s 28 staffers for each party on the crossbench. It’s well above the number of staffers each Greens senator has — they each have four, and the party has an extra 15 staff on top of that, mostly working out of leader Richard Di Natale’s office. While seven staffers each seems a bit extreme, perhaps the government budgeted for extra staff to head off an early battle with the crossbenchers — at the start of the last Parliament, Clive Palmer demanded similar staffing numbers to the Greens, making quite the fuss.

And the preselection goes to. We’ve been reporting on the bitter NSW Greens’ eight-candidate preselection battle for the state seat held by the late John Kaye. The results came in over the weekend, and anti-CSG campaigner Justin Field, preferred by the so-called moderates, won out. Field had a significant margin over his nearest rival, the Eastern bloc’s James Ryan, 955 votes to 772. We hear some members voiced their concerns about the potential for factions to seep into the NSW branch of the Greens, but party co-convener Hall Greenland told Crikey last month he believed once preselection was over the internal ructions would settle down somewhat.

Using the dying to make a buck. Amid all the Rio hype, fears of Donald Trump’s ascension, Brexit madness in Britain, bombings in Europe and Syria and Yemen, there’s a story from New York, via the Financial Times, that exceeds all those terrible tales. Here’s what the Financial Times reported on its website this morning:

“The top US securities regulator on Monday charged a hedge fund manager with paying terminally ill patients to use their names on brokerage accounts to defraud companies. The Securities and Exchange Commission accused Donald Lathen with running a scheme where he paid $10,000 to nursing home and hospice patients with less than six months to live to open accounts, bought bonds and notes in the accounts at a discount, and when they died would redeem those securities by representing to the issuers that he was the surviving owner of the account.

“The alleged fraud centers around so-called survivorship options, also known as ‘death puts,’ which allow bondholders to redeem securities at par plus accrued interest when the holder dies. The SEC said that the surviving owner was in fact the hedge fund, Eden Arc Capital, which because it is a corporate entity, can never die. Mr Lathen recruited at least 60 people to his scheme, and issuers paid out more than $100m as a result of the scam, the SEC alleged.”

And what did Lathen’s lawyer say in his defence: “We have no doubt that Mr Lathen’s investment strategy is entirely legitimate and violates no law, and we intend to vigorously defend him against the SEC’s meritless charges.”

Only the US could throw up a story as heartless as anything from any trouble spot in the world (short of murdering and abusing children, *cough* Nauru *cough*) — using the dying for self-enrichment.

Most exciting time. Australia might not win any more golds in Rio, but according to Tourism Australia we’re winning at holding exciting conferences. This press release from Trade and Tourism Minister Steve Ciobo’s office yesterday had us giddy with excitement:

“New international research on business events has found Australia is the most exciting destination for conferences. Australia also ranked first for scenery, sight-seeing, and being a destination worth travelling to.

The research found most potential delegates seek some kind of balance between business and leisure, both from the conference and the activities surrounding it. Respondents said the ideal conference is one that balances professional outcomes with strong destination appeal.”

*Heard anything that might interest Crikey? Send your tips to boss@crikey.com.au or use our guaranteed anonymous form

New South Wales

Aug 5, 2016

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A court battle over the acrimonious departure of Greens NSW campaign director Carole Medcalf over allegations of serious misconduct threatens to engulf the preselection battle to fill the NSW Parliament vacancy left by the late John Kaye.

One of the preferred candidates of the so-called “Eastern bloc”, James Ryan, has been named in explosive new court documents as a key player in an employment dispute brought against the party by the former campaign director.

Medcalf and the NSW Greens agreed in May of this year that she would leave the organisation in late June. However, the Greens terminated her employment just 12 days after the agreement was signed and booted her out at the end of May, accusing her of “serious misconduct”.

Medcalf was hired in 2014 to bring professional standards and corporate governance to the party as its campaign director. Her termination caused long-time party treasurer Chris Harris and four other committee of management officials to quit the party in protest. Multiple Greens sources close to the matter have told Crikey that the culture within the committee of management was, and is believed to still be, “incredibly toxic”.

After Medcalf’s employment in the Greens was terminated, Medcalf filed a contractual dispute before the NSW Supreme Court at the end of June. An unredacted statement of claim by Medcalf, seen by Crikey, reveals the full extent of Medcalf’s — as yet untested in the court — claims against the Greens.

In her claim Medcalf says that she and the Greens entered into a deed of settlement in May for $91,000 with an agreed statement that Medcalf had decided not to continue working for the Greens after June 22. But then, 12 days later, Greens NSW co-convener Hall Greenland held a one-minute meeting with Medcalf in which she says he alleged Medcalf had asked a financial officer to increase the deed amount, and that as a result, her employment was terminated, and she would not be paid the amount in the deed.

Medcalf says in the court document that the financial officer she is alleged to have asked for more money denies that she did any such thing, and that Ryan was the only other person present. Medcalf says she has never been provided with evidence or a statement as to what she is alleged to have said.

“If any such statement does exist, then it is also deliberately untrue,” she says in the statement of claim.

Greens co-convener Debbie Gibson told Crikey the party had evidence to back up its claim against Medcalf, and the correct process was followed. The party previously told the ABC that decisions made by the management committee were done on professional legal advice and in accordance with Greens NSW processes.

Medcalf’s falling out with the Greens (and Ryan) dates back to at least October 2014, when Medcalf began raising concerns about Ryan — one of the key candidates in the NSW Greens preselection contest — when he was employed as the party’s planning and environmental law officer.

Medcalf found that Ryan was “under-performing” and needed greater supervision, but according to the statement of claim, when this matter was brought to Greenland and another Greens official, Astrid O’Neill, Medcalf claims she was told that Ryan was a “valued member of staff” who was expected to achieve success in the Greens, and that “unique and alternative ways of operating outside traditional management structures” would have to be put in place to allow Ryan to work.

Medcalf alleges in the claim that Ryan failed to provide monthly reports on his performance and his work standard continued at the same level until October 2015, when he applied for the position of campaign co-ordinator for the NSW Greens. Ryan was appointed to the position by a panel of three, including Greenland and Rhiannon.

According to the statement of claim, Ryan was given two staff, but one quit in February this year, alleging that Ryan failed to delegate tasks properly or communicate election plans or strategy to his staff. Metcalf claims that once Ryan was appointed into the position, she was ostracised and unable to properly perform her job. Medcalf alleges that Ryan and Greenland set up an email list string without her included, and in that string, plans were developed for how Medcalf’s employment was going to be terminated.

When Medcalf was fired, she claims she had no opportunity to address the claims that led to her being fired, and therefore the termination was unlawful. She alleges that the actual purpose of her firing was to remove her from the position, avoid having to pay the money in the deed, and to allow Greenland and Ryan to “go on spending monies from the Greens’ election reserve, without having to provide any accounting” to her to ensure the money was being spent properly.

Greenland told Crikey that Medcalf’s claims were “ludicrous”.

“All expenditures, for instance,  are authorised by the Election Campaign Committee and cheques go through the treasurer and at least one other. Neither James Ryan nor I have any access to party funds. It is desperate stuff,” he said.

“In this matter the Committee of Management has acted at all times with legal advice. Since Medcalf’s departure the administration has run like clockwork.”

Greenland also rejected Medcalf’s claims about Ryan’s competency.

“No one in the party who has worked with him doubts his competence. Plenty of people will attest to that.”

Ryan also told Crikey that all the claims Medcalf made are untrue.

“They’ve been made by an employee who has been dismissed for misconduct, and I reject them. This is an ongoing beat-up. It’s not the first time it has come into the media, and in my opinion it is an attempt to damage my reputation.”

The case is due to go to court in October. Voting in the preselection to take the vacancy left by the widely respected late John Kaye will finish next week. Ryan is one of eight candidates from the Rhiannon-aligned group vying for the spot, with 14 candidates in total. Former Greens leader Bob Brown said last week he was concerned that factionalism was creeping into the party.

New South Wales

Aug 4, 2016

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Tensions are rising in the NSW Greens, with many eager to point fingers over the party’s disappointing result in the federal election and tensions over replacing recently deceased state MP John Kaye and maintaining his legacy.

The Greens increased their primary vote in the lower house, but there was a swing against the party in the Senate and they lost at least one senator, Robert Simms from South Australia. Much of the blame has gone to the New South Wales branch, where the primary vote was less than 9%, it failed to gain key seats such as Grayndler and Sydney, and hopes for a second Greens senator were dashed.

Over the past few months there have been resignations and court cases involving members of the party’s state executive, as well as a bitter preselection battle for the New South Wales upper house seat held by John Kaye, who died from cancer in May.

On Friday’s 7.30, former Greens leader Bob Brown unleashed on the NSW branch. He told 7.30 that New South Wales had been “a long term disappointment to me”, citing the NSW branch’s reluctance to unify as part of the national Greens party in the ’90s. Tensions between the NSW branch and the rest of the party intensified last year, as Crikey reported, over federal resources offered to NSW for the election, and after Greens Senator Lee Rhiannon lost the education portfolio.

In the interview, Brown called for “renewal” in the party, specifically for NSW Senator Lee Rhiannon to go and make way for fresh blood, but NSW Greens co-convener Hall Greenland told Crikey that Brown and NSW Greens have always had different views about the importance of grassroots democracy.

“Unfortunately the difference persists. For more than a decade Bob has been interfering in Greens preselections in New South Wales. He has never got over the fact that the Greens NSW members did not agree with his view and preselected Lee Rhiannon and John Kaye for the Upper House instead of his preferred candidate,” he said. “It’s time Bob acknowledged and accepted that no part of the Australian Greens has a more democratic constitution than the Greens NSW. The members preselected our Senator Lee Rhiannon and their decision needs to be respected.”

Greens state MP Mehreen Faruqi echoes Greenland’s statement in an opinion piece in Guardian Australia this week, stating Rhiannon was democratically elected and no one inside or outside of the Greens had the authority to tell her to resign.

The current focus for tension in the Greens in New South Wales is the bitter battle for Kaye’s seat, where there are 14 preselection candidates. Brown has raised concern that seven or eight of the candidates, aligned with the so-called “eastern bloc” of Rhiannon and Kaye, would be working to build their preferences together to topple other candidates, specifically to take on NSW MLC Jeremy Buckingham’s preferred candidate, anti-CSG campaigner Justin Field. Brown said on 7.30:

“That’s not what voters want to see. And that’s not serving the thousands of members of the Greens in New South Wales properly. We don’t want factionalism. We want the best candidates to get up. There are good candidates there. But if you’re trying to shepherd votes to a particular candidate, it means that candidate’s not necessarily the one that the voters would pick.”

Greenland rejects the notion that there were factions anything like what the Labor Party has, but he says informal networks in the Greens do exist. “Some have labeled the more left Greens the ‘Eastern bloc’ to falsely imply they are undemocratic extremists. The opposite is true. The extensive democratic rights of members in the Greens NSW constitution — very much the product of people like Lee Rhiannon and John Kaye — give the lie to that.”

The favoured candidate of the Kaye camp is believed to be James Ryan. Kaye’s widow, Lynne Joslyn, also intervened in the preselection battle this week, telling Fairfax that before he died, Kaye was concerned that Field would be chosen to take his place, and that Field would betray his legacy.

Nick Casmirri, a former active member of the Greens until 2013, and who is a personal friend of Field’s, says that Field doesn’t align with the ideological purity that Kaye represented to the New South Wales Greens, but that he is still closer to the left of the Greens than other NSW Greens MPs and some in the federal party.

Casmirri says the current fight is a result of a power vacuum left by Kaye. Kaye had been a highly effective organisational politician, with broad policy knowledge that allowed him to dominate debates.

“John was across everything that was happening in the NSW Greens. It’s hard to imagine the party organisation without him. Lee Rhiannon might be the public face of the ‘left’ in the Greens, but it was John who pulled most of the strings behind the scenes, to an extent where even many of John’s close allies didn’t realise just how much influence he was wielding.”

For example, Casmirri says during the 2010 campaign, Kaye personally drafted suggested responses for lower house Greens candidates to give in response to questions.

“I was quite surprised a state MP with a heavy workload would get involved in such a minor detail of the federal election campaign, but I came to see it was common for John to get involved in such details of the party’s operations.”

Part of the preselection animosity towards Field stems from when Field used to work for Kaye, and Field would often challenge Kaye over policy. Joslyn told Fairfax that Kaye had been concerned that Field didn’t share his views on “collective action, working in solidarity with the party or social justice”.

In part, the preselection needs to go the way of Kaye’s allies, otherwise in the NSW party room it would be split 4-4 between the left of the party and the — as Casmirri calls it — “more pragmatic” side. Voting opened on July 18 and will close on August 12.

Greenland told Crikey that he believed the tensions in the party would settle down once the preselection battle was over.

Brown and Rhiannon were both approached for comment for this article. Brown was unavailable, but a spokesperson told Crikey that he stood by his earlier comments.

Tips and rumours

Sep 16, 2015

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Earlier this week Greens staffer Osman Faruqi announced via Twitter that he was stepping down from his party roles to try out some new projects. Along with working in Senator Lee Rhiannon’s office, Faruqi was also the Greens candidate for the seat of Heffron at this year’s NSW election, and his mother is a NSW MLC. The decision to step aside and do something new has set tongues wagging in inner-city Sydney circles. Ms Tips hears that Labor expected Faruqi to be the Greens candidate in the seat of Sydney, running against Tanya Plibersek. Crikey reported on ructions within the NSW Greens after the state election, with tension over the lack of support for inner-city candidate Chris Brentin boiling over in emails criticising the party strategy. We asked Faruqi if factional issues were at play in his choice to resign from his roles. “Not at all. My decision to step back from the party was a personal one. I’ve enjoyed my time in the Greens and the support members gave me as a candidate in the state election, but after being an active member for nearly a decade it’s time to do something different.”

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