Disagreement within the Greens shows the price of doing politics differently



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Lee Rhiannon and every other federal Greens MP have the right to dissent on matters of policy.
AAP/Mick Tsikas

Narelle Miragliotta, Monash University

Over the weekend, Greens New South Wales declared that the partial suspension of senator Lee Rhiannon from certain federal partyroom discussions was “unconstitutional”. The state party requested Rhiannon be “fully reinstated without restriction”.

Federal Greens MPs were ultimately discomforted by their decision to exclude Rhiannon, and were at pains to point out that the action was designed to tackle “a structural issue” and ensure the partyroom had “faith and trust” in party processes.

The other resolution passed by the partyroom in that same session implored the National Council – the party’s highest decision-making body – to work with Greens NSW to end the practice of binding its MPs, even if its vote was against that of the federal partyroom.

Rhiannon expressed her disappointment with the outcome, and went further to suggest that the partyroom’s decision masked a more insidious agenda, which was to:

… reduce the democratic power of members in the Greens NSW.

For all concerned, this matter turns on a fundamental disagreement over process and principle.

Debates over decision-making

For the Greens’ federal parliamentary leader, Richard Di Natale, the NSW practice of binding its MPs restricts the work of the national party room. He said:

If each state binds their senator we won’t have an Australian Greens party room, we’d have a collection of independent states arriving at independent decisions.

In contrast, the NSW party rejects the idea that “all wisdom lies with MPs”. Its view is that policies adopted by members following a process of consensus decision-making should dictate the voting behaviour of the party’s elected MPs in parliament.

Putting aside the matter of personalities and the ethics surrounding the conduct of those involved, to what extent does this incident reflect deep-seated ideological difference over the practice of binding MPs?

The practice of binding elected officials under the Greens NSW Constitution can be located in three main sections:

Section 12.1: The actions, activities and public statements of all members of The Greens NSW who are elected to public office shall be consistent with the charter, constitutions, policies and decisions of the party.

Section 12.6: Elected representatives shall consult with the delegates council regarding positions to be taken in their legislative activity.

Section 13.6: … elected representatives … shall express public opinions and vote in public fora in accordance with the charter of the Australian Greens and ratified policies of the Australian Greens and The Greens NSW, where a party policy exists.

The Greens NSW Constitution does not appear to include a reference to MPs having the right to exercise a conscience vote.

By contrast, other members of the Greens’ national partyroom are not bound by similar requirements under their state party constitutions. MPs are permitted to exercise a conscience vote. Otherwise, the partyroom operates according to the principles of consensus decision-making.

This process requires participants to reach common agreement on matters. If such agreement cannot be reached, a vote may be taken to determine the outcome.

Intra-party difference

Consensus decision-making is fundamental to the decision-making practices of the Greens, including the NSW branch and the federal partyroom. In this regard, the two bodies are identical. However, the difference over process turns on three matters:

  • To whom or what are MPs ultimately accountable: the federal partyroom or their state organisation?

  • Which level of decision-making should be allocated priority over matters of policy: the partyroom or the state organisation?

  • Is party unity more important than the persistence of diversity in state organisational decision-making practices?

These are not inconsequential points of difference – and they should not be dismissed lightly. But would disagreement over schools funding – the policy issue that ostensibly ignited this affair – have been avoided if Greens NSW did not bind Rhiannon? The answer is probably no.

The federal partyroom rules allow MPs to exercise a conscience vote. Rhiannon – and every other member of the partyroom, for that matter – have the right to dissent on matters of policy.

To what extent would Rhiannon’s position have been viewed differently had she exercised a conscience vote, instead of invoking a constitutionally mandated obligation to dissent?

The current situation owes as much to politics as it does any deep unworkable ideological schism within the Greens. While binding might well complicate the partyroom’s efforts to present a united front in relation to legislative negotiations some of the time, the NSW practice seems to do so rarely.

The ConversationAnd when it does, this might just be the price of doing politics differently.

Narelle Miragliotta, Senior Lecturer in Australian Politics, Monash University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

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Partial exclusion for Lee Rhiannon after marathon special Greens meeting


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The federal parliamentary Greens are taking on the power of the party’s hard left NSW branch.
Mick Tsikas/AAP

Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

The Greens have imposed a partial exclusion from their partyroom on radical New South Wales senator Lee Rhiannon, after her behaviour over the schools legislation.

Her colleagues were angry that she authorised a leaflet urging people to lobby senators to vote against the bill, on which the Greens were negotiating with the government. The nine other Green MPs wrote to the party’s national council about her conduct.

While the letter cited the leaflet, the concern about Rhiannon went further. Party sources said they had not been informed that she had been bound by the party’s NSW branch to oppose the legislation. Eventually all Green senators voted against the bill, after the government did a deal with ten other crossbenchers.

The issues with Rhiannon involved trust in her and the ability of the hardline NSW branch to bind MPs – a power it is accorded under the party’s federal constitution.

At a marathon meeting of more than four hours in Melbourne on Wednesday, it was decided that the structural problem needed to be resolved.

The partyroom asked the national council to work with Greens NSW “to end the practice of NSW MPs being bound to vote against the decision of the Australian Greens partyroom”.

This was supported by all MPs except Rhiannon.

The partyroom also passed a motion “that NSW senators be excluded from partyroom discussions and decisions on contentious government legislation, including within their portfolio responsibilities, until these issues are resolved”. At present Rhiannon is the only NSW senator.

Rhiannon and Adam Bandt, the Greens’ only lower house member, voted against the motion.

In a statement after the meeting, acting whip Nick McKim said: “To function as a national partyroom, and to be a genuine alternative to politics as usual, we need to have faith and trust in our processes.”

The ConversationThere is some uncertainty about how a battle with the NSW branch – controlled by the “watermelon” faction, a description reflecting its hard left position – will play out. Some in the party fear the situation could be inflamed, while others will welcome the branch being finally taken on.

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Former leader Bob Brown attacks Greens senator Rhiannon’s behaviour on schools



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All nine of Lee Rhiannon’s federal colleagues co-signed a letter of complaint that was sent to the Greens’ national council.
Mick Tsikas/AAP

Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

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.

The Conversation“I was proud to stand with branches of the Australian Education Union, particularly as the Turnbull school funding plan favoured private schools,” she said.

https://www.podbean.com/media/player/ivb89-6c3c98?from=site&skin=1&share=1&fonts=Helvetica&auto=0&download=0

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

RISING TIDE PROTEST IN NEWCASTLE: COAL INDUSTRY THE TARGET


Climate change activists under the ‘Rising Tide’ banner conducted what was called on the day the ‘People’s Protest’ in Newcastle yesterday. The protest was an attempt to shut down the Port of Newcastle in Australia, which is the largest exporter of coal in the world.

Despite the protesters claim that they had successfully blockaded the harbour, the authorities had previously arranged for there to be no shipping movements on the day in the interests of safety. The protesters used kayaks and various home-made ‘boats’ to form the blockade near Horseshoe Beach. About 500 people took part in the protest.

A police presence was very active during the protest to ensure safety and to prevent any form of crime.

Rising Tide is preaching a message of anti-coal and pro-renewable energy for our future.

NSW Greens MP Lee Rhiannon took part in the protest.

The protesters block the harbour entrance

The protesters block the harbour entrance

 

The police maintained an active presence

The police maintained an active presence

The police maintained an active presence

The police maintained an active presence