Anthony Albanese’s attempts to distract attention from his party’s internal factional troubles are as see-through as they are ridiculous. Sylvia Hale from Greens NSW weighs in.
As any factional powerbroker can attest, when the shit is about to hit, reach for the fan. It’s a useful two-pronged tactic because it diverts attention from the issue at hand and simultaneously smears your opponents.
Anthony Albanese is a dab hand at this. When questioned last week about branch stacking across the ALP, he responded,
Let’s not pretend here that political parties from time to time haven’t seen these issues. We saw in the Greens political party in NSW a massive stack by the group called Left Renewal, which were involved in attacking the leadership of Bob Brown and Christine Milne and that part of the Greens.
Of course, if your intention is to muddy the waters, then the way to go is to conflate differences of political perspective within a party with paying the membership fees of someone whose interest in politics is minimal and who will vote as instructed.
But, as Albanese would know after years of immersion in inner Sydney Labor politics, what’s crucial to a successful stack is not just signing up new members, but controlling who gets to take home the attendance book after a branch meeting. After all, adding a name or two later on may be critical to the outcome of a preselection where the right to vote is dependent on the number of meetings attended.
Before delving further into the mechanics of stacking, it’s worth looking at the alleged Left Renewal ‘stack’ of the Greens NSW (GNSW).
There are those Greens members who believe the party’s primary focus should be on environmental issues. Other members, however, believe that, absent a radical challenge to profit-driven capitalism, the impacts of climate change on the environment will not be reversed. (They note that even a global pandemic has not been enough to curb rampant profiteering in the provision of personal protection equipment or the touting of snake-oil remedies.)
Depending on the issues at hand, the bulk of members probably waver between two poles often crassly described as ‘tree tories’ versus ‘watermelons’. But disputes about where to head and how to get there are the lifeblood of politics and ones that engage serious members of all parties. Left Renewal’s ‘crime’ was to openly state where it stood on key issues and its desire to move the party further to the left.
Its founders and supporters were, and many continue to be, Greens members. There was no sudden rush of new members into the party nor a capture by Left Renewal supporters of influential positions.
Albanese’s claim is untrue. Indeed, given GNSW’s structure and constitution, it’s difficult to see how a malign, well-resourced stack could ever succeed.
In this context, it is worth recalling the origins of the Greens in NSW – the first Greens party to form in Australia. In 1984, its first policy document provided a thumbnail sketch of members:
The GREENS in Sydney come from many backgrounds. Environmental and resident activists. Nuclear disarmers. Dissidents from the Labor Party who have witnessed betrayals by both wings of that party. Feminists. Anarchists. Those inspired by the German Greens. Socialists of various kinds. …
What is distinctive and unifying about this new force in Sydney is the emphasis on encouraging people’s self-confidence in their right to have their say, their right to democratically determine matters – whether they are large or small – which affect their lives.
The whole point was to counter backroom deals stitched up by self-interested hierarchies indifferent to or insulated from members’ views.
GNSW’s constitution embodies grassroots democracy. Ultimate decision-making power resides in 60-plus local groups spread across the state, delegates of which attend bi-monthly meetings of the State Delegates Council (SDC).
No local group, no matter how large or small its membership, is entitled to more than one vote at an SDC on policy, financial or organisational matters. All members, whether delegates or not, may attend and, if time permits, are able to speak at all SDC meetings.
GNSW believes that, when people vote, they are usually doing so for a party and its policies, rather than for an individual, and that election to parliament or council does not bring with it the right to overturn or contradict policies adopted by the party’s members.
For that reason, GNSW’s elected council and parliamentary representatives are bound by party policy as adopted by the SDC and are accountable to their local groups and to the SDC for their statements and actions.
In between SDCs, the party’s affairs are coordinated by an annually elected Committee of Management, whose decisions are subject to rejection or amendment by the SDC. Its members are unpaid volunteers.
Volunteers are central to the party’s ability to function. Paid staff are, with one exception, part-time and funded in large part by state and federal grants that are subject to intense electoral commission scrutiny.
The party does not accept corporate donations in any form and severely caps donations from members and supporters.
In light of GNSW’s de-centralised, non-hierarchical structure and the accountability of its office bearers and elected representatives to the party’s membership, it is difficult to see a stack ever succeeding.
There is also a practical deterrent to stacking in the Greens. New members do not get to vote in pre-selections until they have been a member for three months, and each Greens local group has the right to reject an application for membership.
Over its 35-year history there has never been an incident of stacking.
While there is an undoubted need for legislative action to end corrupt donation practices and to establish a fully resourced and empowered federal equivalent to NSW’s ICAC, that is not enough.
What’s needed is for parties across the political spectrum to adopt structures that empower rather than emasculate their members. Why join a party if your views are never to be heard, let alone heeded?
Central to this is a willingness to embrace community activism, union involvement, and the broad social movements sweeping the world, issues that really resonate with people.
The Greens in NSW endeavour to do this. Perhaps it’s time for other progressive parties to take a leaf out of their book.
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