The state of civil war within the Victorian Greens doesn't seem to be subsiding at all.
On May 11th, former Greens Councillor, who also stood as a candidate for the seat of Narre Warren South at the 2014 Victorian State Election, Lynette Keleher, took aim at the party and blasted it for what she describes as a culture of bullying and abuse.
I have seen cases, including my own, where preselection rules and dates have been changed at the last minute, affecting outcomes in at least one winnable seat. I have seen victims of bullying, including myself and Bhathal, lodge complaints, only to have them ignored or batted away. And then I have seen victims' words used in counter complaints against them, which are acted on with speed and force.
Right now the cover up is on. Right now, it seems the party leaders are busy spinning their lines. They write about the need to identify the leakers while protecting the complainants’ right to raise anonymous, evidence-free allegations as the rest of the party prepared for an expected historic byelection. They know very well that journalists will protect their sources – the leakers will not be found. The bullies will continue their careers in the party, and nothing will change.
I, as someone else who was heavily involved in the party; I can only say that Keleher is absolutely spot on in her assessment of the Victorian Greens.
By and large, the party's membership can be divided into two camps. The first camp is what can be considered the 'old guard'; consisting of people who have helped build the party from its humble beginnings in the early 1990's, on the basis of activism, as well as other people who have come in around them up to the present day. People such as Alex Bhathal and Lidia Thorpe both fall into this grouping.
The other, and more concerning, broad group can be termed as the 'new guard'. This group consists of several sub-groups, based on when and how they came into the party.
The first big subgroup are those who came into the party post 2001, jumping ship from both the Labor and Liberal Party's in response to the bypartisan me-tooism between the two major parties on Tampa and the Iraq War. These people, while broadly progressive and left-wing; were also broadly dismissive of social movements and their role in creating change, believing that progressive change comes from electing people into parliament. They brought with them the same attitudes and culture of opportunism and careerism that plagues the major parties, into the Greens.
The second big sub-group of the 'new guard' consists of former Democrats (some who held key positions in that party) who jumped ship following their demise as a political force. It is this sub-group that has been broadly responsible for the Greens centrist drag and willingness to do deals - seeking to turn the Greens into the Democrats 2.0, claiming to have learned from their mistakes of the past.
The third sub-group consists of a loose collective of younger people from affluent backgrounds, who grew up in Liberal voting households. In their adult lives, these people have only ever known the Greens. These people are very individualist, inward looking, ambitious and are very much motivated by career progression rather than activism, social movements, issues advocacy and party building.
It is the 'new guard' that now has dominance within the Victorian Greens and it was this group that gained confidence and was emboldened by the elevation of Richard Di Natale into the Federal Parliamentary Leadership. This group, which now occupies most of the key internal positions in the Victorian Greens, has been consistently and aggressively going after the 'old guard' in the party ever since as well as successfully taking power away from the grassroots membership and centralising it. Which is why...
We Greens have problems, and we should lay off the smug boasting that we "do politics differently". However, if the progressive green-left were to abandon this party – built over 30 years by thousands of committed volunteers – it would just have to be rebuilt.
...this statement, in a letter to The Age on May 13 by 'long standing Greens member' Colin Smith is completely misguided.
The fact is, the progressive green-left aren't really being given a choice. They are being forced out of the party unless they toe the centrist line and the party's 'new guard' couldn't care less about the work that has been put in to build the party over the years.
The party may not be entirely a powerful elite - but this powerful elite definitely have the most influence within the party.
About the author:
Matt Hrkac is a writer and activist based in Geelong who regularly contributes to Green Left Weekly. He has particular interests in politics, elections and the trade union movement and has had extensive involvement in a number of local campaigns. He is a former member of the Greens.