A long-running debate over strategy and tactics inside The Greens NSW has resulted in one state MP resigning and three others publicly supporting his campaign as an independent for a seat in the next NSW Legislative Council.
The truce inside the party seems precarious, at best.
Just before the holiday shut-down and three months before the NSW election, Greens NSW MLC Jeremy Buckingham resigned from the party after failing to get his way on a series of ultimatums. This included a call for the party to expel the “massive influx” of socialists he said had joined The Greens NSW.
Buckingham also announced that he would run as a “real green Independent” for a seat in the Legislative Council in the March elections. Buckingham had been preselected to the third spot on the Greens NSW Legislative Council ticket, making his re-election highly unlikely.
Buckingham, who has often chosen to make internal party disputes public, spent an entire interview with ABC Radio National's Hamish MacDonald on December 20 railing against socialists “inside” and “outside” The Greens NSW, who, he said, had wrecked the party and his future in it.
Buckingham denied to an incredulous MacDonald that the rebuffed ultimatums and allegations of sexual assault had anything to do with his decision to walk.
In a series of unsupported and outlandish claims, Buckingham said The Greens NSW had been infected by a “clandestine organised program by socialist organisations to take [it] over”.
He said the Socialist Alliance and Solidarity had successfully turned The Greens NSW policy platform into “one of pure socialism, pure Marxism”.
“We’ve seen a massive influx of people out of those organisations,” Buckingham said. “Hundreds come in to affect pre-selections, to take over office bearing roles” and it has been happening for more than a decade, he added.
“It’s a malaise of political parties, particularly small ones like the Greens,” Buckingham insisted, arguing that the party’s internal structures are “vulnerable to entryism” and “organised groups seizing control”.
Socialist Alliance national co-convenor Susan Price said Buckingham’s claim was nonsense.
“It is laughable to suggest that the Socialist Alliance organises its members to join the Greens with a view to influencing policy,” she told Green Left Weekly.
“Sure, we would be happy if the Greens wanted to adopt more of our policies.
“But the only way we do that is by working alongside Greens members in the various campaigns, including to stop the coal and the unconventional gas industries.”
Asked by the ABC if these “socialists” care about the environment, Buckingham replied: “I think they do, but their agenda is to end capitalism”.
He accused Left Renewal, a group of young Greens in NSW, of running a toxic campaign against sitting Greens NSW MLCs Cate Faehrmann and Justin Field.
Buckingham also attacked them for daring to criticise former Greens national leader Bob Brown after he demanded that former NSW Greens Senator Lee Rhiannon step down from parliament.
Buckingham said Left Renewal had been formed to “remove [Cate and Justin] and to end capitalism and pull down our mixed market economy”.
Asked why he is only leaving now if the Greens have been heading in this direction for 10 years, Buckingham said he was leaving because the party had made “a lot of undemocratic decisions” including, he said, 12 attempts to expel him.
He then blamed Rhiannon — whom Buckingham claimed is “a member of the Communist Party of Australia” — for the party’s decay.
Rhiannon has denied ever being a member of the CPA. The Greens NSW have a rule proscribing members of other political parties.
Buckingham blamed “democratic centralism” for the problems in The Greens NSW, which he described as “the socialist theory” of “electing committees that elect committees, that elect committees, that elect committees, that take decisions away from the grassroots”.
Buckingham tried to draw a parallel between the current debates in The Greens NSW and those between the “Fundis” and the “Realos” in the German Greens in the 1980s. He wrongly claimed that the Fundis were entryists, largely fleeing from East Germany, who had tried to expel the Realos, which he described as the “environmental Greens”.
In fact, the disagreements between the Fundi and Realo currents in the German Greens were over policy and tactics towards the major parties.
Many Fundis left or were expelled by the Realos in the 1990s after the German Greens voted to support NATO and adopt a principle of almost unqualified support to forming coalition governments with the Social Democratic Party.
Buckingham accused Greens leader Richard Di Natale of being “weak” and The Greens NSW leadership of being “toxic” after its NSW State Delegates Council resolved to ask him to step down from the NSW Legislative Council ticket over sexual assault allegations against him.
Asked how he would reply to those asking whether to support The Greens NSW in the federal election, he said people should look closely at the party because it wants to “nationalise all industries”.
His priority, he said, is to “come up with sophisticated ways to deal with climate change” by working “with the market” to phase out fossil fuels.
The Greens NSW co-convenor Sylvia Hale told Green Left Weekly that “despite Buckingham's unfounded assertions, The Greens NSW has never ... sought to hound critics of capitalism or advocates of socialism from its ranks.”
“From its very beginnings, The Greens has been a progressive party that has attracted members from across the left political spectrum on the basis of its four foundational principles: ecological sustainability, grassroots participatory democracy, social justice, peace and nonviolence.”
Hale described Buckingham’s red-baiting as “discredited 1950s McCarthyism” that is “out of touch with modern political reality”.
“One can only assume it is a desperate attempt to seek re-election to the NSW parliament by appealing to far-right conservative forces, such as One Nation and Peter Dutton adherents.”
Faehrmann and Field, who are not facing re-election in 2019, and Dawn Walker, who is, have long been politically aligned with Buckingham. They defended his behaviour over the sexual assault complaint made against him and also signed off on his call to expel socialists from the Greens.
Since Buckingham’s resignation, all three have publicly expressed their best wishes for his campaign, even allowing him to use their Facebook pages to canvass support.
Field, Faehrmann and Walker have been pushing for The Greens NSW to conduct a recount of the NSW Legislative Council ticket, believing it would advantage Walker, who was initially elected to the ticket’s fourth spot and will now move up to third to fill the vacancy left by Buckingham’s resignation.
Hale told GLW: “There is no provision within The Greens NSW Constitution for a recount,” adding: “There are numerous precedents that vacancies in the past have been filled by preselected candidates moving up the ticket sequentially to fill the gap.”
She said the State Delegates Council, made up of delegates from 60 local groups across NSW, will decide in February how to proceed.
The red-baiting is not just coming from Buckingham. In Facebook comments that have since been deleted, Field railed against Socialist Alliance members who, he said, “had formed a presence” in the NSW-wide movement to stop coal seam gas.
Field singled out Stop CSG Sydney, which Socialist Alliance members helped form in 2011 (along with Greens and others), as being “hostile” to Buckingham.
This was contradicted in the now deleted Facebook thread by Greens Inner West councillor Lou Steer, a former Stop CSG Sydney public officer. She said there had been no hostility towards Buckingham or the Greens and, like many of the anti-unconventional gas groups that formed at the time, the Sydney-based group was clear it would be most effective if it remained politically non-aligned.
It is also on the public record that Stop CSG Sydney hosted and co-hosted events with Buckingham.
Price said Field’s comments are revealing of just how out of touch he is. “Socialist Alliance members have played a positive and consistent role in the movement to stop coal seam gas in New South Wales; they have been re-elected to voluntary roles, which means working with activists from different political backgrounds, year in and out.
“Given that the anti-CSG movement has managed to hold up all major unconventional gas projects in this state, I'd say the non-partisan approach has proved a success.”