The two weak defences of the suspension of Lee Rhiannon

On July 8, two op eds were published in defence of the suspension of Lee Rhiannon — one by Bob Brown in New Matilda, one by Christine Milne in the Guardian. Both are pretty weak — Brown’s especially so. This blog offers a quick response to some of their inane arguments.

  1. Christine Milne’s op ed

Milne makes two arguments. The first is that “ there can be no consensus if one person is already bound to vote according to a directive from a liaison committee in their own state. If all states took that view, then the Australian Greens could never make a decision.”

Okay, so could the Greens reach consensus on what policy they should take on Workchoices? On the war on Iraq in 2003? On whether abortions should be legal?

The fact is — the Greens have reached consensus on plenty of issues, because the politicians and members are aligned on many issues. It is when the leadership is asked to compromise with the government that difficulties may arise. Milne suggests that this is because the leaders will have more information than the members. This is true, but it is also possible that leadership will be willing to compromise to a greater extent than the membership would like. People can disagree about the extent to which politicians should be bound to implement policy decided at lower levels, but this is absolutely a question of centralisation. Milne acts as though there is no trade off — there is simply benefit on her side of the argument, and irrational unreasonableness on the other.

The second is worse.

“While the Greens retain our core commitment to consensus-based decision making, the NSW party has effectively secured veto power over the whole of the membership of the Australian Greens.
By binding their elected members in a manner that is at odds with consensus-based decision making, they exert an influence and regularly veto decisions in a manner that is neither democratic nor in the spirit of equality.”

Think about this for a moment. Greens party room (the meeting of politicians) is supposed to decide everything by consensus. Consensus means unanimity. That is — literally every single politician has veto power. Every single politician from every state can prevent consensus. Why is it benign for politicians in other states to have this power, but not for NSW? Presumably because other politicians could conceivably be offered incentives or punishments to whip them into line.

2. Bob Brown’s defence

Brown’s op ed makes similar arguments. For example,

This meant that the NSW hierarchy could, with minimal support elsewhere, thwart the majority of both Greens representatives and the wider Greens membership.
Put simply, they have never trusted the ordinary Greens membership.

That is, NSW can thwart other Greens politicians in exactly the same way that every other state can under the consensus model. Note also how Brown says they could thwart a majority of Greens representatives. Clearly, Brown would like to move to a different model of decision making in the Greens.

In one of his concluding paragraphs, Brown writes

Lee, Geoff and Hall, so keen on grassroots democracy, ought to hand over their reins of influence in NSW (as Drew Hutton and I did in our states long ago), and put their trust in the NSW Greens voters to chart the way ahead in a world that badly needs the Greens to be energised by policy directions rather than team disruption.

What does this mean? Brown wants to end binding of politicians, which he calls trusting voters. Presumably, we are to trust the voters every few years to ratify decisions made by politicians. Certainly we aren’t to trust the voters to actually decide policy.

For me, the most telling part of Brown’s op ed is this:

Lee has now said that she is ‘disappointed’ with the leadership of Richard Di Natale. She was ‘disappointed with me as leader and ‘disappointed’ with Christine Milne as leader. She has never supported a leader and opposed the party having any leadership at all.

To me, that really gives the game away. This is absolutely about whether power in the Greens should be centralised or decentralised.