Before we go in depth with the issue of Greens control of balance of power in the senate, we should mention few issues here.
We campaigned in the last election against the election of Lee Rhiannon as Greens candidate in NSW, and we were very close to deny her a seat in the senate. Against the odds and all expectations, Lee Rhiannon got the least votes amongst Greens candidates in all states and territories. The Greens candidates in all states got between 12.76 – 14.7% in all states (except Tasmania), except Lee Rhiannon who got around 10.5%.
Now and against all our campaigns, we are more than happy that Lee was elected. We will argue the details of the reasons of this joy later, but we should summarise all these reasons in one sentence: Lee is the best chance of all Greens’ opponents to see this party destabilised as a first step to send them back to political wilderness.
The public tension between Bob Brown, the historical founding figure of the Greens, and Ms Rhiannon began very early even in the lead to the election campaign, 2010. Ms Lee was caught in a scandal of misusing parliamentary privileges, against all her rhetoric during her political career. Bob Brown publicly demanded that she resigns from the state parliament, and focus on federal campaign, to kill these allegations and avoid negative impact. Her response was swift of refusing to budge to her leader’s call and demand. We feel that she was feeling that her chances to win a seat are slim, so she wanted to keep her political career alive. Bob wanted to gamble of ending her political career before she starts to give him leadership headaches at Federal level. Such headache that was expected by Ian Cohen as early as 2005 when we met privately in his office to discuss many relevant issues.
The tension was very clear recently when Bob Brown appeared on several national media outlets condemning Lee’s political opportunist move to use Marrickville council as a tool to increase her popularity among progressive voters on the back of Palestinian people’s suffering. Mr Brown was very clear in indicating that “I am the leader of the Greens party, and not Lee Rhiannon”.
Before we go to the possible impact of the high tension between Lee and Bob on the stability and hence the future of the Greens, we should mention few observations.
Ms Lee wants to put the tension with Bob in the context of ideological differences, while in fact it is only about power thirst. Ms Lee is very notorious to be very thirsty to grab power regardless of any consequencies, including betraying principles or ideological setbacks.
Ms Lee campaigned for long time to destabilise Bob Brown environmental faction’s control of the Greens. She did not hesitate to use all clean and dirty tricks to achieve this goal.
In NSW, she was active to target Bob Brown’s strong ally, Ian Cohen and his faction. She did not hesitate to use all possible tricks to end Mr Cohen’s strong presence inside NSW Greens.
First trick was to conduct vicious campaign to limit the time in parliament to 8 years to end Mr Cohen’s bid for re-election in 2003 state election. Her campaign to enforce limited tenure failed miserably and Mr Cohen emerged victorious. And he did campaign to discredit her when she decided to run again for office in 2007 state election (in clear defiance of her demands and teachings that politicians should not stay in office for long time to prevent political corruption and power abuse).
Then, and after she failed to convince her party to implement limited tenure principle, she resorted to campaigns of political assassination nature, to stop Cohen’s re-election.
Even during last election, Ms Lee used these tactics of ideological differences to distance herself from Brown’s leadership and faction. One of Ms Lee’s supporter posted public email to blame Brown and his environmental faction for the limited campaigns during the election on Multiculturalism and against racism and Islamophobia.
There are many clear evidences that Ms Lee’s fight with Bob Brown and his influential environmental faction is only about power grab and control of the Greens.
If we assume that Lee wants to destabilise Bob’s leadership as an ideological struggle between “Socialist-Left” of Lee and “no-ideology” of Brown and his environmentalists, but how can we understand Lee’s attack on Lefties inside the party.
Ms Lee (and her long-time partner) systematically cleansed any potential threat to their absolute control of NSW Greens, using very dirty tricks most of the times.
This is what happened to Inner-West Greens. When respected active member could garner enough support to defeat Lee and her faction (2005) to impose their candidate for local government election, 2004. Lee did not hesitate to do all in her power to plot against the local group’s leadership even if this could have resulted in dissolving the group.
If Lee is really progressive and “lefties”, can she and her supporters explain to us why:
- She (and her “Greens Terrigal” faction) blocked any change to Greens constitution and procedure to see more people from marginalised groups (Indigenous, non-English, people with disabilities,..) elected to parliament to improve the very low representation of these marginalised groups in decision making bodies. She was quoted saying that “lack of English and ethnic background do not constitute barrier to participation in political leadership”.
- She (and her faction of opportunists) did not take any practical steps on social justice issues (like treatment of boat people, growing racism and Islamophobia, wars on developing nations like Iraq and Afghanistan,...). Apart from media releases and speeches at rallies, no practical steps were taken. Lee refused to participate in any solidarity missions to Palestine or Lebanon in the aftermath of Israeli aggressions. Lee participated in organising forums spreading Islamophobia. Lee blocked appointing Non-English speaking persons in the Greens hierarchy. Lee blocked preselecting Non-English speaking persons as candidates in safe seats.
- Lee did not oppose draconian “Anti-Terrorism laws” and the attacks on Muslim communities. On the contrary. She was active on participating in these attacks, as we mentioned above.
We can give tens of stories to prove that Lee was only interested in power grab, and not any ideological difference with Bob.
Now, Lee will do all in her best to destabilise Bob’s leadership in a bid to replace him. Lee, who has some allies of few other senators who used to spread similar lies about their progressive believes, will work almost immediately to undermine Bob’s position. From her track history in NSW Greens, she will not hesitate to use all tricks under her hat to do this.
We are certain that in the next few years, we will hear a lot about the dirty washings of the Greens on public ropes. As we heard a lot about allegations against Ian Cohen, including sexual harassment claims, we will start to hear a lot about Bob.
Combined efforts with Sarah Hanson-Young, both will do all in their best to destabilise the leadership of Tasmanian and environmentalists’ faction.
The worst mistake of the Greens environmentalist faction was that they did not match Lee and her faction in their dirty campaigns to undermine them. We expect that Bob and his faction will be enforced to resort to hanging the dirty washings of Lee and her opportunist faction, on the basis of “the attack is the best line of defence”.
The next few years will be very interesting in Australian politics. While there are a lot of scenarios in this regard, the best would be either of:
1- Lee and Bob engaging in public fight on leadership that would end them on the same track as the Democrats.
2- The conservative tide will swap Federal politics, as happened in NSW. Then the Greens presence in parliament becomes irrelevant.
Whatever scenario to prevail, we should continue exposing the opportunist nature of the Greens (both factions). Such opportunist nature that is clear in the Greens inability (or more accurately lack of desire) to neutralise the racist “boat people” debate. Such debate that could have been ended very easily if the Greens have the will to do so, the same way the Greens enforced the government to adopt Carbon Tax, against Labor committments.
Unlike the Greens misleading claims, we do not believe that their rise in popularity was due to increased understanding of Greens environmental or social policies. We deeply believe that the increase in Greens popularity is only because the unhappy voters had no other option. And when the real lefties create real alternative, the Greens popularity will return to its original level: 2.5%.