Bob Brown Responds To NSW Greens Over Rhiannon Suspension, and Party Split

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As tensions continue to rise in the Australian Greens over the suspension of NSW Senator Lee Rhiannon from party room activities, former Greens leader Bob Brown responds to this piece published earlier in the week in New Matilda, from the founders of the NSW Greens.

I am enjoying a camping trip with partner Paul in the Outback but should offer your readers a response to the inaccuracies in the article from Geoff Ash and Hall Greenland titled ‘Why Bob Brown is wrong …’.

Geoff might have revealed to readers that he is Lee Rhiannon’s partner.

The Tasmanian Greens’ formative United Tasmania Group (1972) is recognised as the world’s first Greens party, preceding the German Greens (1980).

Grassroots democracy was central to the Tasmanian ‘New Ethic’ and was accompanied by the other pillars of Greens philosophy – peace, social justice and ecological wisdom. This also preceded the NSW Greens by a decade.

The work to set up a national Greens party came out of enthusiasm in Queensland, led by Drew Hutton, and Tasmania but from 1987 met obstruction from a controlling group in NSW including your correspondents. Down these three decades Lee Rhiannon, Geoff Ash and Hall Greenland have remained in the cockpit of the NSW Greens.

Senator Bob Brown during the Parliamentary Debate on the Afghanistan War in the Senate. (IMAGE: Greens MPs, Flickr)
Senator Bob Brown during the Parliamentary Debate on the Afghanistan War in the Senate. (IMAGE: Greens MPs, Flickr)

When most others wanted a majority of voters to be able to build change, they saw to it that less than a 75 percent vote at national conference meant failure, as would less than 66 percent in any referendum. This meant that the NSW hierarchy could, with minimal support elsewhere, thwart the majority of both Greens representatives and the wider Greens membership.

Put simply, they have never trusted the ordinary Greens membership. So, for example, they have been able to routinely block members having a vote on the public joining the Australian Greens directly (you MUST join the NSW Greens first). There has never been a members’ vote on contentious issues.

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The issue at stake in 1992 was abortion. At a meeting in a Newtown cafe, Geoff and a colleague demanded that no representative should be allowed a conscience vote on this. While I have never met a Greens MP who opposes a woman’s right to choose, I did not then and do not now believe that any parliamentarian should be coerced on such an issue of conscience. Nor does any other party. Nor would any respecter of grassroots rights.

The NSW negotiators went much further and insisted their elected representatives have no conscience vote on any issue but be directed by a group of party appointees instead. That is neither very democratic nor very grassroots.

Senator Lee Rhiannon, pictured in federal parliament shortly before her maiden speech in 2011. (IMAGE: Greens MPs, Glenn Lockitch, Flickr)
Senator Lee Rhiannon, pictured in federal parliament shortly before her maiden speech in 2011. (IMAGE: Greens MPs, Glenn Lockitch, Flickr)

This year’s National Conference of the Australian Greens agreed to the Greens MPs negotiating with the government to get a better deal for education, in particular public schools. Lee was there and did not dissent. The rest is history.

Lee has now said that she is ‘disappointed’ with the leadership of Richard Di Natale. She was ‘disappointed with me as leader and ‘disappointed’ with Christine Milne as leader. She has never supported a leader and opposed the party having any leadership at all.

Lee, Geoff and Hall, so keen on grassroots democracy, ought to hand over their reins of influence in NSW (as Drew Hutton and I did in our states long ago), and put their trust in the NSW Greens voters to chart the way ahead in a world that badly needs the Greens to be energised by policy directions rather than team disruption.

That the Greens are the only national party opposing the Adani coal mine is something Geoff, Hall and Lee might better be advocating.

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Bob Brown

Bob Brown is the former leader of the Australian Greens, and a lifelong campaigner for the conservation of Australia's environment.

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