Are the NSW Greens heading for a split?

The Greens face an unresolved contradiction between those who criticise capitalism for its failures and those who believe the system can be fixed.

The NSW Greens appear to be heading for a split, with the right wing of the party initiating a McCarthyite campaign to purge socialists from its membership.

The red-baiting campaign, led by three NSW Greens state MPs, follows the seeming resolution of a long-running sexual harassment complaint against Greens MLC Jeremy Buckingham.

But Greens MLCs Cate Faehrmann and Justin Field have come to the defence of Buckingham and put an ultimatum to the state party leadership: ignore current decision-making practices and expel members of the internal anti-capitalist tendency Left Renewal and socialist group Solidarity by December 17 or face the consequences.

Purge

In their open circular to "Greens members, former members, Greens supporters and voters" released on December 12, the two MLCs say the party is "at a crossroads". According to them, Left Renewal has had such a big influence on the party that it has "poisoned goodwill", "destabilised core principles" and undemocratically hounded Buckingham out of the Greens.

Left Renewal has repudiated this claim. Formed two years ago, it said on December 12 that it is not a large organisation and that only two members of Solidarity had been Greens members and they had left more than a year ago.

Left Renewal alleged that Buckingham had brought the situation to a head by "smearing his accuser, calling her a promiscuous drug user, lied about having been 'cleared' by the [external] investigation, threatened several members with defamation for publicly supporting his accuser, and attacked the NSW Greens' democratic processes repeatedly in the media".

"The culmination of [Buckingham’s] behaviour was for representatives of every local group in NSW coming to the consensus position that he should resign from the ticket at the 2019 NSW election", Left Renewal said.

Complaint resolution

A December 8 NSW state delegates meeting (SDC), attended by 53 local groups and open to all Greens members, decided by an overwhelming majority to ask Buckingham to stand down from the ticket on the basis of the long-standing complaint against him. Only two local groups opposed the resolution.

The vote followed the Australian Greens expressing concern to NSW Greens convenors on October 1 that Buckingham "may have breached our anti-sexual harassment policy", adding, "We believe that the most appropriate course of action is for Jeremy Buckingham to stand aside as a candidate for the next election".

Faehrmann and Fields have said that if Buckingham is forced to withdraw from the NSW upper house ticket for the March 2019 state election, the only democratic way forward would be to have a recount and redistribute Buckingham’s votes.

Dawn Walker, who is number four on the ticket and is aligned to Buckingham, has also demanded a recount.

The current ticket order is David Shoebridge, Abigail Boyd, Buckingham and Dawn Walker. Walker believes that a recount would bump her up to the second spot.

Buckingham’s response

Buckingham has consistently denied any wrongdoing, instead accusing a section of the party of running a witch-hunt against him.

He described the NSW Greens as "corrupt and rotten" in a December 9 video posted on his private Facebook page.

Buckingham accused the Greens SDC of "abandoning grassroots democracy" by overturning the pre-selection result. He said the party had been "coopted and abused for factional purposes" and warned "party insiders" not to "meddle" with pre-selection results.

Buckingham added that it was "of great concern that party insiders rejected a proposal to recount the ballot to determine the ticket should I go".

NSW Greens Senator Mehreen Faruqi said on December 12 that the state co-convenors had committed to consider a ballot recount, but that as this was a break from past practice and required membership rule changes, the matters could not be resolved within a few days. She said the Greens SDC also committed to a review of party processes, allocating a substantial sum of money "to ensure it is as thorough as possible".

Others have pointed out that when candidates have previously decided to step down from upper house tickets (such as in 2010, 2006 and 2000), no recounts were done. Rather, the person who was next in line on the ticket was bumped up.

Long-running red-baiting campaign

Buckingham, Field and Faehrmann, together with former Greens national leader Bob Brown — and occasionally current party leader Richard Di Natale — have been waging a long-running campaign against the NSW Greens over its grassroots decision-making structures and political stands.

This grouping ran a vicious campaign against former NSW Senator Lee Rhiannon, most recently focusing on her refusal to buckle to Greens Senator Sarah Hanson-Young’s attempts to compromise over the full Gonski schools funding package.

The campaign against Rhiannon included a large amount of red-baiting.

Former Greens Marrickville Council Mayor Fiona Byrne also came under concerted attack in 2012 from a section of the party after securing support (including from all Greens councillors) for a motion supporting the global boycott, divestment and sanctions campaign for Palestine.

Fellow Green councillor Max Phillips subsequently helped organise a nasty attack on her by leaking internal discussions to the corporate media.

While the Australian Greens has been critical of the NSW Greens, including over its decision-making processes, it has supported the NSW Greens' decision to ask Buckingham to step down from the NSW ticket. It also supported Newtown Greens MP Jenny Leong’s decision to use parliamentary privilege to add to the pressure on Buckingham.

Socialist influence

The allegation that socialists unduly influence the NSW Greens is laughable. While socialists did help form the party in the 1990s, many were later proscribed.

However, those socialists helped shape NSW Greens policy, including its four core principles: ecological sustainability, social justice, grassroots democracy, and peace and non-violence. These principles were affirmed in a manifesto released in April this year by Shoebridge.

The Greens do face an unresolved contradiction between those who criticise capitalism for its failures and those who want to downplay them while signalling that the system can be fixed.

There is no absolute reason for this contradiction to lead to an immediate split, but it seems that a section of the Greens is pushing for one at all costs.

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