It’s hard to imagine a political party getting it any more wrong than the Greens NSW have in their handling of the sexual assault allegations levelled against Jeremy Buckingham. Chris Graham brings you the latest development.
Greens NSW has finally sought to close the book on the most divisive chapter in the party’s history – a scandal that led directly to the resignation of two male MPs – by sending an apology five months late to a woman allegedly sexually assaulted by one of its leading politicians.
But the letter – sent to former Greens staffer Ella Buckland after she alleged that Greens MP Jeremy Buckingham sexually assaulted her in 2011 – was sent out unsigned, undated and ‘unsecured’, as a raw Word file.
That means the metadata linked to the document – which reveals information like who wrote it, when it was created, how long it took to edit, and how many times it was revised – was easily accessible.
On that front, what it suggests is that the Greens NSW strategy was more about media management than it was about contrition.
Put simply, according to the metadata of the document, the apology to Ella Buckland took less than 10 minutes to draft, was delivered to her email address less than an hour later, and was written by a Greens public relations specialist**, not the ‘Committee of Management’ named at the bottom of the letter. (Ed’s note: Since publication, the Greens NSW have responded to a series of New Matilda questions, and deny the apology was written ‘in 10 minutes by a public relations consultant’. You can read the questions and answers in full below).
The story begins almost a decade ago, when Ella Buckland alleges she was sexually assaulted by a drunken Jeremy Buckingham, a newly minted member of the NSW parliament after securing an historic third seat for the Greens in the 2011 state election.
Ms Buckland had joined Mr Buckingham and a young female Greens volunteer at his inner-Sydney home, after work drinks in the city.
As the night wore on, Ms Buckland says Mr Buckingham and the young woman got progressively more drunk. Ultimately, Ms Buckland was trying to escort the heavily intoxicated young woman home when she alleges Mr Buckingham came up behind her, grabbed her roughly on the crotch and tried to kiss her neck.
The next day, Ms Buckland alleges Mr Buckingham phoned her and threatened her employment. She left the party – and her job – within months, but finally complained about the alleged assault in early 2018, as the #metoo movement gained momentum.
Mr Buckingham has always vehemently denied the allegations, and the young woman Ms Buckland sought to protect appears not to have supported her evidence. However, video footage from the night supports Ms Buckland’s version of events that Mr Buckingham and the young woman were both extremely intoxicated.
In mid-2018, Greens NSW appointed an external workplace law firm to investigate the complaint, and that’s where things started to seriously go off the rails. Ms Buckland eventually went public on the ABC, after investigators notified her they were about to release their findings, despite not having contacted two of her key witnesses.
The investigation did not clear Mr Buckingham, but found the allegations couldn’t be substantiated.
Even so, the fallout from the ABC story was significant. After Buckingham resisted calls for his resignation for months, in late 2018, NSW Greens MP Jenny Leong savaged him in parliament, noting his behaviour towards her and several other women over several years had convinced her it was time to speak out.
Further pressure mounted on Buckingham when it emerged he had publicly lobbied for a reform to NSW defamation laws, but privately threatened numerous party members with legal action of several years, including a teenager who posted a comment critical of him on a private Facebook group.
In the shadow of a looming election, Buckingham still refused to quit, but finally walked after a party meeting late in 2018 attracted overwhelming support for his resignation. He contested the March 2019 election as an independent, and was not returned to office, receiving one of the lowest votes in the state.
But the fallout for the party wasn’t quite done. Buckingham’s colleague and supporter, MP Justin Field, also quit the party in protest. MPs Cate Faerhmann and Dawn Walker* threatened to leave the party as well, but ultimately brokered a peace after the election.
More than a year after the issue began, it finally started to settle, and so in June this year, Greens NSW members decided to draw a line under the scandal by voting to direct the party to issue an apology to Ms Buckland.
That apology never arrived… until late last month.
The win that broke the silence
Fast forward to November 2019, and federal Greens politician Sarah Hanson-Young won a long-running defamation action against former Liberal Democrats Senator David Leyonhjelm. He had falsely claimed in 2018 that Ms Hanson-Young had shouted out ‘all men are rapists’ during a parliamentary debate.
The celebrations from Greens members around the country at the court win was understandably enthusiastic – Leyonhjelm, an arch conservative, had refused to apologise, and then lost in court. But Ms Buckland was still waiting on her apology, mandated by the party five months earlier. So she took to social media to point out the Greens’ hypocrisy.
The following day, Greens NSW emailed Ms Buckland. But rather than offer the written apology party members had demanded, the party executive instead tried to convince Ms Buckland to attend a meeting, or accept a phone call, and accept a verbal apology.
In an email to Ms Buckland, Greens NSW wrote:
“We’re sorry it’s taken us so long to get in touch, but we were hoping we could arrange a time to either meet with you in person, or arrange to speak with you over the phone to offer you an apology.
“We understand this is difficult, so we would like to make arrangements that best suits you. Can you please let us know if either a phone call or an in person meeting would be possible?”
Ms Buckland rejected the approach. Three days later, an email with the written apology finally arrived.Ella-Buckland-apology
The unsigned, undated Clayton’s apology
It’s hard to imagine adding insult to injury in a story like this, but somehow Greens NSW have managed to do precisely that while offering an apology.
It took Greens NSW more than five months to get around to writing Ella Buckland’s apology, but once they got started things moved surprisingly quickly… so fast, in fact, that the letter was sent off to Ms Buckland undated, unsigned and ‘unsecured’.
When you send a raw Word document (as opposed to, say, a PDF), there are no digital locks on it that would prevent the text being altered. But more importantly, it also means the metadata associated with the document is easily accessible to whomever receives it.
That metadata suggests that the apology was written on a computer once linked to ‘Mark Franklin’, the former Head of Media and Communications for Greens NSW. However, Mr Franklin’s LinkedIn profile reveals he left the Greens several months before the letter was written.
Greens NSW did not respond to attempts by New Matilda to determine who the actual author was, or why the letter might have been constructed by a public relations specialist, rather than party executives or lawyers. (Ed’s note: Since publication, the Greens NSW have responded to a series of New Matilda questions, and deny the apology was written ‘in 10 minutes by a public relations consultant’. You can read the questions and answers in full below).Response-to-New-Matilda-re-Ella-Buckland-apology
The metadata also revealed the total editing time for the document was just “6 minutes”, and it was revised twice. The date on the file’s metadata says the document was created on ‘November 29’, at 7:54am. From the time the document was created and arrived in Ms Buckland’s email inbox, just one hour and five minutes had passed. That’s pretty fast-paced after delaying the process five months.
Greens NSW has not responded to questions from New Matilda about the sudden haste to get the letter out, nor the attempt a few days earlier to pressure Ms Buckland into accepting a verbal apology by phone or at a face-to-face meeting.
Too little, too late
Ms Buckland says the unexplained delay in receiving the apology, the revelations contained within the metadata, and the apology itself, have rendered the whole process almost worthless.
“I’d like to accept an apology, but I don’t think this one covered the depth of the issue,” Ms Buckland said.
“It didn’t address the concerns I had raised. They didn’t apologise for anything. Essentially they’ve just said, ‘We’re sorry that you were sad’.
“I have no idea why there was such a lengthy delay. I gathered they didn’t want to apologise because they didn’t want to compromise themselves legally. Or maybe they just forgot.
“But why was it so hard for the Greens, a progressive feminist party, to apologise to me for their failed processes?
“Considering how many months it took, and that it only came after I tweeted about the hypocrisy of them celebrating Sarah Hanson-Young’s win against David Leyonhjelm, I don’t think they’ve learnt anything.”
Ms Buckland said she did not hold the party responsible for the sexual assault allegedly perpetrated by Jeremy Buckingham. However, she did hold the party responsible for the processes put in place to respond to it, in particular the investigative process established to probe the issue.
“They said they had to make it [the investigation and complaint handling processes]fair for everyone. But in doing that they didn’t actually make it fair for me.
“I was told they were about to finalise the report into their investigation. But they hadn’t contacted two of my key witnesses – my mother, and a mental health nurse practitioner (both of whom Ms Buckland disclosed the assault to, years earlier).”
It was only after Ms Buckland began emailing investigators to complain that those witnesses were contacted.
Ms Buckland has also never been given a copy of the report.
“I know people within the Greens pushed for me to get a copy of the report. But I don’t understand why some within the party have been allowed to read it, but I can’t. It’s a report about me, about a sexual assault on me.
“There might be a good reason, but it’s never been explained to me.”
Two of Ms Buckland’s other key witnesses – politicians Justin Field and Adam Guise – appear not to have supported Ms Buckland’s evidence, after she disclosed details of the assault to both of them, several years before officially complaining to the party.
Mr Field has not responded to repeated attempts by New Matilda to establish what he told – or rather what he did not tell – investigators. He has since quit the Greens but remains in parliament as an independent.
Adam Guise remains a Greens councillor on the Lismore City Council, and has also ignored repeated attempts by New Matilda to gain comment about his actions.
Ms Buckland told New Matilda she is now considering her legal options, with a view to accessing a copy of the investigation report. In particular, she is trying to establish the source of false claims to investigators that prior to working for the Greens Ms Buckland was a “promiscuous, intravenous drug user”.
Mr Buckingham has ignored repeated attempts to determine if he is the source of that false claim.
*An earlier version of this story incorrectly suggested Tamara Smith threatened to quit the party, in support of Jeremy Buckingham. In fact it was Dawn Walker who supported Buckingham – Ms Smith called on him to resign. New Matilda apologises sincerely for the error.
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