Left-wing Greens have been sidelined in a re-allocation of the party’s portfolios announced on September 15. Critics say the moves are part of new leader Richard di Natale’s expressed desire to make the party more “mainstream”.
It appears that the portfolio reshuffle took place without consultation, and became public on the party's website on September 15 when an updated contact list was sent to the corporate media.
NSW Greens Senator Lee Rhiannon, the former spokesperson for higher education, and Victorian Senator Janet Rice, the former spokesperson for LGBTIQ rights and equal marriage, have been demoted.
A tireless campaigner, Rhiannon built up a close working relationship with unions, university bodies and student groups in the hard fought campaign for more education funding and against the government’s deregulation agenda. Her dedication to public education made her a regular at rallies and meetings — even if she was not speaking.
The Greens higher education portfolio has been given to South Australian Senator designate Robert Simms and the schools portfolio to Nick McKim — a former education minister in the Tasmanian Labor–Greens government.
That coalition suffered a 9.5% swing against it in state elections in March last year. The Tasmanian Greens recorded an 8% swing against it — the result of the party’s support for the Labor's budget which included savage cuts to the health and education budgets. McKim was the Tasmanian Greens leader at the time that he was in charge of closing down schools.
McKim put his hand up to replace Christine Milne after the former federal leader who stepped down from the Senate in July and was appointed to the vacant Senate spot.
The NSW Young Greens said in a September 15 statement that the decision to move Rhiannon on from the portfolio “will hurt the entire education movement across the country”.
“This decision will, in many ways, alienate thousands of young people and union members from the Greens,” the statement said.
It also objected to the process — or lack of it — by which the portfolios were changed. “We object to the authoritarian nature of having the parliamentary ‘leader’ have the final say on portfolios.
“We object to the lack of consultation with members, and the inability we have, as members to object to changes. As a grassroots party, we believe that members should have input into all decisions.”
The Young Greens also said that removing the portfolio from Rhiannon so close to a federal election “expresses a deep disregard for the continuing position of the sole Greens senator of NSW”.
“By making this call, the Australian Greens have created a devastating blow to the activists, students, staff and union members who have been fighting fee deregulation, and for free education for many years. The NSW Young Greens object wholeheartedly to this decision.”
Co-secretary of the NSW Young Greens Georgia Tkachuk, who helped draft the statement, told Green Left Weekly that those concerned about this should get in touch with Richard di Natale’s office and let him know.
Senator Rhiannon issued a statement on September 15 saying, “It had been an honour to be the advocate for Greens policy on tertiary, technical and further education for the past five years”.