Ella Buckland, the woman at the centre of sexual assault allegations that ended the political career of NSW politician Jeremy Buckingham earlier this year, will be delivered a formal apology by Greens NSW for the hardship she endured during the internal complaints handling process.
But rather than put to rest a scandal that caused a major split in the party in the lead-up to the March state election, a second motion yet to be voted on by Greens NSW members to release a secret internal report may help shed light on what two other senior male politicians within the party did – or did not do – after Ms Buckland says she told them of the incident.
Ms Buckland alleges that in 2011, she was sexually assaulted by Mr Buckingham, then a new Greens MP in the NSW Parliament. She had joined Mr Buckingham and a younger female party volunteer for after-work drinks at his inner Sydney home, and was trying to assist the young woman to get home, believing she was drunk and worried she would be left in a compromising position with Mr Buckingham.
Ms Buckland alleges that as she tried to coax the young woman to leave, a drunk Mr Buckingham walked up behind her and grabbed her roughly on the genitals, and tried to kiss her neck.
Video footage of the evening, filmed by Ms Buckland, confirms that Mr Buckingham and the young woman were heavily intoxicated.
She alleges Mr Buckingham phoned her the next morning and threatened her employment. Within months, her job as a Greens staffer ended acrimoniously.
Mr Buckingham has strongly denied all the allegations levelled by Ms Buckland.
Almost seven years later, in April 2018, Ms Buckland made a complaint to Greens NSW after seeing a social media post by NSW MP David Shoebridge lambasting senior Greens figures for their treatment of sexual assault victims.
The party investigated and found there was insufficient evidence to prove the allegations, although Mr Buckingham eventually resigned anyway.
The motion to apologise to Ms Buckland was passed at the most recent meeting of the Greens NSW State Delegates Council, held in late June.
New Matilda understand the motion called on the party to acknowledge and apologise for the hardship Ms Buckland experienced during the complaints handling process.
However, the apology was originally part of a broader motion which also called on Greens NSW to release a copy of the investigator’s report into the alleged sexual assault to Ms Buckland.
That report – which has been seen by only a handful of senior party members – has never been made available to Ms Buckland, and ultimately found there was insufficient evidence to prove her allegations.
However, the document contains potentially explosive information about what investigators were told and, importantly, by whom.
In the course of the inquiry, Ms Buckland was asked by investigators to respond to false allegations she was a ‘promiscuous intravenous drug user’. It’s never been revealed who made those claims, and Mr Buckingham has refused repeated requests to comment publicly on it.
Greens NSW have also not responded to questions from New Matilda about who made those allegations, and whether or not they’re contained in the final report.
The report also contains information about evidence investigators sought from two other senior serving Greens’ politicians – Justin Field, a former Greens MP who quit the party earlier this year in protest at the treatment of Jeremy Buckingham, and Adam Guise, a Greens councillor currently serving on the Lismore Shire Council.
Both men were friends of Ms Buckland. She told investigators she had divulged details of the alleged sexual assault by Mr Buckingham to both men on several occasions, several years before the issue became public.
Mr Field and Mr Guise have ignored repeated requests for public comment on the issue, including fresh inquiries from New Matilda this week. Neither will say whether or not they corroborated Ms Buckland’s claims that she disclosed the alleged assault to them.
Mr Field, who filled a vacancy for the Greens and has never contested an election, now sits as an independent on the NSW crossbenches, after resigning from the party and moving to the crossbenches in April, over the treatment of Mr Buckingham. He has four years left on his eight-year upper house term.
Mr Guise remains a councillor in Lismore, a region with a strong Greens presence. He unsuccessfully contested the 2015 state election for the seat of Lismore, but reduced the once safe Nationals seat to a marginal one, after finishing in front of Country Labor in the contest.
The Greens NSW did not respond to a series of questions from New Matilda about the issue, however it’s believed the motion about the release of the report will be discussed later this month.
There’s also no word from Greens NSW about the delay in the delivery of the apology. Ms Buckland confirmed she has not received any correspondence from Greens NSW, although the motion to apologise was passed in June.
Ms Buckland’s allegations were first aired on ABC’s 7:30 program in mid-2018. The claims were expanded in a series of features in New Matilda, which revealed the extent and nature of the alleged assault, along with a string of alleged transgressions by Mr Buckingham, including multiple defamation threats issued against party members, despite Mr Buckingham publicly lobbying against the use of defamation laws by politicians.
After months of tension, including a scathing speech in parliament by colleague Jenny Leong in which Mr Buckingham was accused of bullying behaviour, he quit the party in December. It followed a motion supported by a substantial majority of Greens NSW branches calling on Buckingham to stand down as a candidate at the March state election. Mr Buckingham ran as an independent, securing just under 12,000 votes state-wide – about 190,000 votes shy of the quota needed.
Greens NSW, with factional opponent David Shoebridge heading the ticket, won two seats at the election with 9.35 per cent of the vote, about 1 per cent down on the 2015 result.
Mr Buckingham won his seat against the odds in 2011, winning from the previously unwinnable third position on the ticket. Considered a strong campaigner, particularly on the issue of coal seam gas, Mr Buckingham’s campaign was badly derailed by Ms Buckland’s allegations.
Mr Buckingham ran his campaign as an ‘Independent Real Green’, only to fall foul of strict NSW electoral laws, which prevent candidates from using misleading party names in their campaigning.
For his part, Justin Field quit the party in April, shortly after the NSW election. He had strongly backed Mr Buckingham prior to the poll, and also held discussions with other party members including former head of the federal Greens, Bob Brown, about splitting from the party.
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