Former Greens leader Bob Brown accused Lee Rhiannon of “perfidious behaviour”, as the defiant Greens senator fought back against united condemnation from her parliamentary colleagues.
The other nine parliamentary Greens, including eight senators and lower house member Adam Bandt, have written to the party’s national council complaining about Rhiannon who, when the Greens were negotiating with the government on the schools bill, authorised a leaflet urging people to lobby senators to block the legislation.
Brown, a long-time critic of Rhiannon, repeated his previous description of her as “the Greens’ version of Tony Abbott”, and his call for the NSW Greens to replace her at the election with someone more popular and constructive.
He said that while he did not disagree with the Greens ultimately voting against the legislation – because Education Minister Simon Birmingham had done a special deal with the Catholics – the Greens in their negotiations had obtained $A5 billion in extra money.
Education was not Rhiannon’s portfolio – and for her to advocate against the Greens leader Richard Di Natale and its education spokesperson, Sarah Hanson-Young, was “untenable”, Brown said.
The Greens letter said: “We were astounded that senator Rhiannon was engaged with [the leaflet] production and distribution without informing party room at a time when we were under enormous pressure from all sides as we considered our position on the bill”.
It said the leaflet had the potential to damage the negotiations that Di Natale and Hanson-Young were having with the government about billions in extra funding for underfunded public schools.
The Greens’ parliamentary partyroom will consider Rhiannon’s action.
Despite prolonged negotiations with the Greens, the government finally concluded a deal with ten of the other crossbench senators to pass the bill. But the Greens had done much of the heavy lifting to obtain a series of amendments. This included the additional money, which takes the planned total extra federal government spending on Australian schools to $23.5 billion over a decade.
In a statement on Sunday Rhiannon said she rejected allegations she had derailed negotiations and breached “faith of the party and partyroom”.
“I am proud the Greens partyroom decided to vote against the Turnbull government’s school funding legislation. It’s clear that public schools would have been better off under the existing Commonweath-state agreements than they will be under the Turnbull package.”
She said that at all times her actions on education had been faithful to the party’s policy and process, and her work had not impacted on the negotiations.
She defended the leaflets she authorised, saying they were “a good initiative of Greens local groups.
“They highlighted the negative impact the Turnbull funding plan would have on their local public schools.
“Producing such materials are a regular feature of Greens campaigns. These leaflets urged people to lobby all senators to oppose the bill.
“I was proud to stand with branches of the Australian Education Union, particularly as the Turnbull school funding plan favoured private schools,” she said.