Jeremy Buckingham’s Brain Explosion: Careful What You Wish For, Lefties

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New Matilda’s Month Of MAYhem – where we release a major investigation every week to show readers what we could do all year long if we were properly resourced – was to have officially begun yesterday.

Ironically, it seems to have kicked off a day early, if the social media explosion that followed our story about Greens NSW MP Jeremy Buckingham, and a lewd gesture he pulled at a recent Greens event, is anything to go by.

At the outset, I should acknowledge that much of the commentary was in condemnation of New Matilda. And it’s fair to say a very sizeable proportion of that was from Greens members and supporters.

In case you missed the story, it’s available here.

To cut a long ramble short, Buckingham was at a Greens NSW trivia night. He posed for a group photo and pulled a gesture which simulates cunnilingus.

Hanging offence? Not exactly, albeit it’s very politically stupid and spectacularly juvenile. But is it newsworthy? Well, if you think it isn’t, then replace the words ‘Jeremy Buckingham’ with ‘Peter Dutton’… then honestly tell me ‘there’s nothing to see here, move along’.

I’m an admirer of Buckingham’s passion for the environment. In particular, I’m a fan of his work in opposition to coal seam gas. But that does not give him a free pass to act like a clown. The Greens is a party defined by values. Buckingham’s behaviour falls well short of those values.

Buckingham could have made this all go away quickly. He could have issued a simple, unreserved apology, and moved on. He didn’t.

Instead, he issued several versions of a rambling explanation, which included claims that he was simply giving a light-hearted two finger salute and poking his tongue out at the same time; that the camera angle mis-characterised the incident; that he didn’t really know what the lewd gesture meant anyway; and that in any event, he was a fan of British comedian Rik Mayall and he was simply emulating a gesture he ‘made famous’.

Tosh. I’m a fan of Rik Mayall’s as well. I don’t recall him on any occasion pulling that face, and even if it did, it still means one thing, and one thing alone: cunnilingus.

Spot the difference? Rik Mayall and Greens NSW MP Jeremy Buckingham.

With that in mind, it’s a glorious thing. It’s nothing to be ashamed of. But it has a time and a place, and the time and place is not a group photo at a public Greens fundraiser by a middle-aged man whose been elected to serve a party that defines itself by its values and the behaviour of its members.

Buckingham’s supporters also suggested that witnesses at the event, and other camera angles, would exonerate the politician. I look forward to the emergence of those ‘grassy knoll photos’, which have thus far strangely eluded publication.

Even if you accept Buckingham’s explanation for his actions – if you’re comfortable with a politician issuing a highly qualified ‘I’m sorry you were offended’ apology for an act that was clearly offensive – his further response still falls well short of that expected of a Greens politician.

After an inquiry by New Matilda, Buckingham’s media adviser responded to my questions by trying to background against another Greens politician, who had no involvement or association with the incident whatsoever… and one who just happens to be currently standing against Buckingham for pre-selection for the NSW election.

In an email, adviser Max Phillips suggested ‘by way of background, not for attribution’ that the woman who posted the image on Facebook and publicly questioned it, Lauren Gillin, used to work for Greens MP David Shoebridge.

Two words: so what? It was grubby spin, worthy of a Labor or Liberal party hack.

Even more remarkably, less than a week earlier, New Matilda had published a three-part series by Michael Brull which alleged, in part, that factions including Buckingham’s were backgrounding journalists to try and harm party colleagues.

It’s inconceivable to me that Buckingham’s office, having read that feature, would then think the way out of a problem of Buckingham’s own creation would be to do precisely what our reporting was critical of.

As to the gesture itself, my view is that it is deeply disrespectful to women. You don’t have to agree with me. But you do have to accept that many do, in particular the young woman who had the courage to publicly challenge the photo. What she received in return is genuinely appalling.

Amid a slew of abuse, Lauren Gillin had this posted about her by another Greens member.

Daniel Reid has been pre-selected by the Greens NSW to run for the seat of Page. Obviously, that pre-selection should be withdrawn immediately.

It’s disingenuous in the extreme to pretend that Buckingham’s photo couldn’t possibly offend, in particular women within the Greens, and in particular at the moment. The Greens have made headlines in NSW, Victoria and the ACT recently for the way in which allegations of sexual assault against members have been mishandled.

It’s also deeply hypocritical. If this is what politics in the Greens NSW looks like, then the party is in even greater trouble than we all thought.

That so many Greens supporters have piled on so much manufactured social media outrage proves that this was not only a matter of clear public importance, but that some on the political skin on the left is precisely as thin as right-wingers claim.

Finally, to the critics of New Matilda, many of whom have suggested that I’m running a factional war (from Stradbroke Island in Queensland, no less) in the lead up to NSW pre-selections.

For the record, I couldn’t give a rat’s bum about the Greens factions in NSW, nor their party pre-selections (with the exception of Reid… obviously). I do, however, care about New Matilda being seen to hold politicians to account equally, regardless of their politics or their party.

New Matilda exists as an independent media outlet to report without fear or favour on matters of public interest. We don’t get to choose who we like. Our promise to readers is that we will try and call it as we see it, and we’ll continue to do that regardless of the social media pile on.

Finally, what this episode has really exposed is that we’re all hypocrites, it’s just the depth that varies. Ironically, that’s the name of the almost completed New Matilda Manifesto. We’ll release that shortly after May. And speaking of May, our first major investigation is due to drop late this week… lawyers pending. Watch this space, and join the #newmatildaMAYhem if you haven’t already, by subscribing here.

If you can’t because holding all politicians to account equally is not what you wish to sign up for, then you were never really part of our movement in the first place.

Chris Graham

Chris Graham is the publisher and editor of New Matilda. He is the former founding managing editor of the National Indigenous Times and Tracker magazine. Chris has won a Walkley Award, a Walkley High Commendation and two Human Rights Awards for his reporting. He lives in Brisbane and splits his time between Stradbroke Island, where New Matilda is based, and the mainland.

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