What's intended by May meeting of Greens?


Comment by Steve Painter

Five individuals have called a national meeting in Sydney on May 18-19 to discuss setting up a national green party.

According to a letter accompanying the invitations sent to green electoral groups last week, the gathering has been convened, "following informal discussions", by Senator Jo Vallentine (Greens WA), Tasmanian MP Bob Brown, Drew Hutton (Rainbow Alliance, Brisbane), Hall Greenland (Sydney Greens) and Steve Brigham (Illawarra Greens).

Vallentine, Brown and Hutton are associated with the Melbourne Group, which has been discussing green politics for about a year, though it has been held back from electoral initiatives, partly by Brown's and Vallentine's previous reluctance to get involved in a national project, and partly by the commitment of Australian Conservation Foundation leader Phillip Toyne to support for the Labor Party.

Greenland and Brigham are leading individuals in the NSW Green Alliance, a broad, democratic organisation of local groups involved in electoral and other activity.

The May meeting, initiated by Vallentine, has now become a project of the five self-declared conveners. Checks by Green Left Weekly in Sydney, Hobart, Wollongong and Brisbane this week revealed that neither Brown, Greenland, Brigham nor Hutton had consulted meetings of relevant green organisations before signing the call.

The letter proposes a "broad-based" meeting of "between 30 and 40", including the five Tasmanian green independent MPs, representatives of the Denison Greens and groups affiliated with the national network sharing electoral registration for the name "green", "possibly about six other green activists who have been involved in an ongoing series of informal discussions", plus a representative from the Northern Territory.

The inclusion of all five Tasmanian MPs and "about six other green activists" in such a small gathering indicates that the core of the meeting has been hand-picked, says Bruce Threlfo, who stood as the candidate of the Greens in Lowe (Sydney) in the last federal election.

The invitation is accompanied by a structure proposal submitted by the Greens WA and the Denison Greens, a group set up in Bob Brown's electorate as a prototype green party branch. There is also a letter from Drew Hutton suggesting some changes to the structure document.

A proposed agenda suggests formal adoption of the structure proposal after a few hours' discussion on May 18. Groups are given until May 10 (a little more than three weeks) to suggest changes to the proposal, after which it will be redrafted by the Greens WA.

In a related development, on April 10 Sydney Greens member Tony Harris announced his resignation as officer responsible for registration of the name "green" with the federal electoral commission. Harris had held responsibility for the name since it was first registered by the Sydney Greens in 1984.

Agreement of the registered officer is necessary for groups other than those already registered under the electoral act to contest elections using the name green. Since December 1989 Harris had operated as a member of a federal applications committee initiated by the NSW Green Alliance to control use of the name.

In his letter of resignation, Harris claims there are three "deputy registered officers": Drew Hutton, Steve Brigham, and Kim Herbert of the Greens WA. While it seems Harris intends that his authority should be handed over to all or some of these people, it is not clear this is possible, since he had previously shared responsibility for the name with representatives of about 14 other groups.

Threlfo believes Harris' resignation could be part of an attempt to give any group coming out of the May meeting the possibility of monopolising the green name for electoral purposes, but he thought this would be difficult given the number of registered groups around the country.