First it was Bob Brown, just after the Federal election, using the media to blame the “old guard” in NSW for a small fall in The Greens’ vote, and to call for Lee Rhiannon to stand down.
Then it was right-wing candidate, Justin Field (promoted by NSW Greens upper house MP, Jeremy Buckingham) being selected to take John Kaye’s tragically vacated seat.
Now, Jeremy Buckingham himself has emerged to attack the left of the NSW Greens, this time by going on the ABC’s 7.30 to declare that there are “unaccountable officials” in the NSW Greens, and to demand that the NSW Greens appoint a leader.
The right-wing of the NSW Greens has declared war on the left. Field’s election was a wake-up call. But it is clear that the right of the party now thinks it can use Field’s election to go the offensive.
It says something about the complacency of the left that it could not get its act together to have a single candidate in the pre-selection. There were eight left candidates, while the right had one. Splitting the left vote certainly helped the right.
There can be no doubt that Field will use his position to continue the efforts to pull the NSW Greens further to the right.
Brown, Field and Buckingham have made it clear that they want to more dramatically shift The Greens toward the middle ground of politics; in particular in seeking to play a role in government, and away from The Greens’ strength of being a protest party.
Dr David Burchell, an academic from Western Sydney University interviewed on the 7.30 segment, singled out the “old Left” that had joined The Greens and who are more focused on “social justice, radical” issues than on the environment.
Of course, in the era of capitalism-induced climate change, this is a false distinction—the environment issue is both a social justice issue and radical—but the reference is code for insisting that The Greens should not be radical at all.
Some see the replacement of Sarah Hanson-Young by Nick McKim as Immigration spokesperson as more evidence of Greens leader Richard di Natale taking The Greens to the “respectable centre” of politics.
Brown famously said he didn’t want to keep the bastards honest, he wanted to replace the bastards. But in the meantime it seems he is willing to play with the bastards.
The left of The Greens has been put on notice. Unless they fight for a different vision of the party, the right is determined to go over the top of them.
Buckingham has gained confidence from the election of his former staffer, Justin Field, that he can win state-wide membership votes focused on the issue of a NSW leader.
His focus on the issue of “leadership” is yet another indication of Buckingham’s conservative trajectory.
Specifically, he wants to shift leadership away from the rank and file and from leading NSW Greens politicians like Lee Rhiannon and David Shoebridge who are identified with actively supporting social justice issues.
There is nothing inherently undemocratic or unaccountable about the existing Greens structures.
Buckingham wants “the leader” to set the political tone and priorities of The Greens.
He told the ABC that, “We need to have accountability in leadership, we need to have defined roles so we know what their responsibilities are and we assign them a strategic task to engage with the membership, to be a focal point in election campaigns potentially.” It is no accident that there is no mention of The Greens’ involvement in social justice movements or of the need to take up working class issues.
David Shoebridge declined to appear on 7.30 to respond to Buckingham’s interview, but Buckingham’s comments have begun a war of words inside The Greens.
In a Facebook post published by the ABC, David Shoebridge’s staffer Tom Raue calls Buckingham “a disgrace”.
Another Greens member, Nick Rowbotham wrote, “I’m just going to say it, Jeremy ought to be seriously sanctioned—or potentially expelled—for this repeated bullshit.”
The origins of The Greens were in the mobilisations of thousands in the fight to save the Franklin River in Tasmania, but The Greens are no longer primarily concerned to mobilise people to fight outside of Parliament; they mobilise people to vote. Electoralism has taken its toll.
The left needs to take the fight to Buckingham, Field and di Natale. Resolutions in branches condemning Buckingham would be a start. But the real task is to extend the discussion about “what sort of party”; to politically orient the Greens on class issues and relate to the unions and disaffected Labor voters; and to actively involve the membership in the struggles outside parliament.
By Ian Rintoul