Defending democracy in green processes


By Pat Brewer

Doug Hine seems to agree with the major point I documented — that the manner in which a national Green party is being put forward has quite disturbing features, conflicting with the open and non-exclusive way the name "Green" has been shared to this point.

What, then, is the point of seeking to portray my article as depicting a conspiracy of everybody else against the DSP? I cited evidence that those who wish a centralised national party — namely the Queensland Greens, some Green Independents in Tasmania around Bob Brown, Steve Brigham of the Illawarra, and that minority in West Australia around former Senator Jo Vallentine — seem to be pushing towards exclusive claims to the name Green. That is not a conspiracy against the DSP, but it is an undemocratic process that the DSP, like others, opposes.

Doug's unspoken assumption seems to be that anyone who agrees with a view put forward by a DSP member can be lumped together with the DSP for polemical purposes. If this procedure has a point other than turning attention away from the central point of my article, I would like to know what it is.

Doug's claim of "inaccuracies" in my article also don't hold up. In fact, he doesn't deny the major facts I cited; he only tries to put a different interpretation on what they mean.

For example, it does not refute my statement on the open and non-

exclusive sharing of electoral registration by the Sydney Greens to cite an "initial proposal" for a different procedure. While it's true that a small minority of the Sydney Greens wanted to impose conditions in addition to support of the four principles, the group as a whole decided more wisely. Ironically, Doug himself acknowledges the reason: that this was the only way to bring together a broader coalition of forces.

In the process leading to formation of the Green Alliance, the first public activity was a forum July 30, 1989, which included speakers from a number of parties, including the DSP. Those attending this forum overwhelming voted to hold a conference on September 9-10, 1991, to establish a Green political organisation in NSW. At this conference a the NSW Green Alliance was formed. Information and forms were circulated by the Sydney Greens and Tony Harris setting out how local groups could gain electoral registration as independent and autonomous Green parties. This document stated:

"The end effect of this we hope will be a network of autonomous 'parties' with no over-riding central state or national organisation ...

"We regard membership of the Greens as 'open'; any person who campaigns for or supports Green candidates or Green objectives is a member."

Further conferences in November and December and early 1990 adopted an open and democratic structure, decided to field a NSW Senate ticket of six, including a member of the DSP, and began the process of discussing how to proceed with democratic elections and accountability of candidates.

During that period a number of Green parties were established as related parties in NSW, for administration of the Senate at a NSW wide level, in Victoria and in the ACT. These parties were set up autonomously as part of an open process.

It is the violation of the rights of the autonomous parties that Doug is trying to obscure with his absurd analogy about the August 1991 national meeting. The organisers of that meeting violated the rights of autonomous groups to choose their own delegates and dictated that any Green party who wished to participate in any ongoing national formation — centralised party, federation or network — had to proscribe its membership. No new party was being established for the DSP or anyone else to "adjudicate" on; the meeting was to be a way to coordinate and work out some structure between existing autonomous Green parties.

Doug's "objectivity" is also a bit weak on the relationship between the NSW Green Alliance and the committee established by the alliance to administer access to the state registration of the Green party name.

The registrations committee was established at a conference at Morpeth in August 1990 with quite explicit guidelines tying it to the NSW Green Alliance. Despite Doug's claims about what "most observers" think (has he done a survey?), the policy adopted when the committee was established is very clear:

"The NSW Green Alliance is the body which administers the state registered Greens Party. All decisions taken by the NSW Green Alliance also apply to the state registered Greens party. The state registered Greens party will be administered on behalf of the NSW Green Alliance by a State Registration Committee."

When this committee exceeded those guidelines and its decisions were challenged, it was agreed to take the issue back to a Green Alliance conference on February 1 to try to resolve the

differences. If the committee was not under the control of the Green Alliance, why go back to an alliance conference to resolve the problems?

A compromise over the rules was negotiated and passed without dissent, not as Doug would have it, with DSP members abstaining "as a bloc".

When these rules, and the conditions of transfer of authority were discussed by the committee the next day, the very people who had not dissented the day before now objected to 20 of 27 clauses and voted to deny any relation to the authority of the Green Alliance. Doug does not deny that this happened. But where I call it a cynical and undemocratic manoeuvre, Doug calls it "an achievement". Readers can make their own interpretation.

The nine delegates who unsuccessfully sought to make the committee independent of the Green Alliance also made it clear that they would have used such independence to violate the autonomy of local Green parties, requiring them to adopt some form of proscription in order to have access to the name Green for state elections.

Doug tries to justify the committee's attempted putsch by citing the preselection of an upper house ticket as a "crisis". The facts are that the alliance called for nominations for a two-

person ticket. Two nominations were received — Ian Cohen, who had stood several times on Alliance tickets, and Janet Parker, a foundation member of the Alliance. On the closing date of the ballot, Ian withdrew his nomination because Parker was a member of the DSP — although he had run on a ticket with a DSP candidate in the 1990 Senate election without objection. He did not cite any concern "voiced by many Greens about the narrow base of the alliance process", but perhaps Doug knows something not publicly known about why Cohen aborted the ballot at the last possible moment.

As to Oshlack's behaviour, Doug admits that he raved "off his head in a most disgraceful display for something like 15 minutes". What is new here is Doug's view that it was up to the people Oshlack was abusing, rather than the people he was voting with, to persuade him to behave in a civilised fashion. Also curious is Doug's attempt to involve a DSP member in using physical force to eject someone from a Greens meeting.

The person facilitating the session did not try to regain order despite calls for him to do so. And when I took this up with him later, in Doug's presence, I was told I was only causing trouble and the best way to deal with Oshlack was to let him rave on, no matter how distasteful and abusive he became. It is true that Doug moved that Oshlack be ejected from the Sunday meeting. Perhaps he would have received more support for his motion if he

had not withdrawn it before it was discussed.

Despite the "concerns" expressed at the beginning of his article, the thrust of Doug's response is to conceal or justify the distortions taking place in the green process. Restricting access to information, deliberate misinformation and behind the scene deals have unfortunately become more common. Doug's unsupported assertions, moral outrage and obscuring of past events don't help to overcome the degeneration of a process that was once open and democratic, and which held the promise of providing the basis for a broad, progressive, political alternative. Neither does attacking those who try to maintain democratic grassroots procedures.

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