The internal heat against the Greens candidate for the Victorian State Seat of Richmond, Kathleen Maltzahn, is ramping up.
For those who are unaware, Maltzahn founded the organisation 'Project Respect', which among other things advocates for the Sweedish model with regards to the regulation of sex work - making the act of buying sex illegal, though not to sell such services. She and by extension the Greens, came under fire from pro sex work organisations, including the Australian Sex Party, leading up to the 2014 Victorian State Election - with her opponents labeling her as a SWERF (sex worker exclusionary radical feminist). The Victorian Greens policy platform supports the decriminalisation of consensual sex work - point 21.
21. Decriminalisation of consensual adult sex work.
Well, it appears that this criticism is no longer contained outside of the Greens. A Facebook page, Greens Voters Against Kathleen Maltzahn, was set up following her successful preselection. Furthermore, the reception to her preselection was mixed at best on the Victorian Greens own Facebook page.
They absolutely have good reason to be opposed to Maltzahn's candidacy, especially considering that the seat of Richmond is a winnable seat for the Greens. She has also stated that she would "vote with her conscience" against the Greens policy and in favour of criminalising the purchase of sex work:
... If legislation to criminalise the purchase of sex work came before the Parliament, she would vote in favour of it.
"I would vote with my conscience which would put me in conflict with my party. There are a range of issues on sex work. There is the old style approach - that it's wicked - and then there is the approach we've taken in Victoria which is decriminalisation, but that hasn't addressed violence against women in the industry. The Swedish model is feminist, human-rights based."
Just this week, it has been revealed to me by a credible source, who I have chosen not to reveal the identity of by their request, that key members of the Australian Young Greens are "deeply divided" over how to respond to Maltzahn's candidacy for the third time. The source stated that the group was considering endorsing a public statement against Maltzahn. However, delegates from (predictably) Victoria (arguably one of the more culturally conservative Greens branches in the country) aren't willing to go down the public route after "the mess of the Batman by-election" - instead preferring to opt for an in-house, inter-party private letter.
In response, Young Greens delegates from other states are said to be concerned that "some of their colleagues" are "putting party solidarity/unity and the prospect of winning seats ahead of standing up for marginalised groups in our society".
A heated discussion
A series of screenshots from a text chat since received from the same source also reinforces and puts into context the heated discussion (I have also chosen not to reveal the names of the individuals quoted below and refer to each as participants from their respective states). Details of this discussion are detailed below.
The participants in this meeting included state Young Greens office bearers, Australian Young Greens office bearers, state delegates and general participants.
A participant from NSW opens the meeting by stating the following:
For the purpose of indicating [a] position, NSW is anti-SWERF and will support a motion against Kathleen [Maltzahn].
However, after a handful of messages suggesting that a motion be put to a formal vote, another participant, from Victoria, in response states the following:
It's been [put to a vote] at least once, possibly more, and I remember other states indicating that they couldn't agree to pass [the motion] as it was (but many just didn't vote).
In response, another NSW participant responds with:
Look, if that's the case, it concerns me that we can't get multiple quorum in a statement against SWERFs.
In addition to saying that the Victorian Young Greens had "4+ hours of discussion" about motion and there "being a lot of concerns that came out of the meeting", the Victorian participant says:
I don't think the concerns were with the motion itself, but rather the way the motion was going to be shared. [If I recall] there were some concerns with the wording of the motion [as well]. [...] The one thing that was clear though was that Victoria doesn't agree with Maltzahn's views. ...
The disagreements came down to some of the more technical points.
A second Victorian participant in the meeting interjects with the following, in response to a question from a NSW participant regarding what concerns were had:
In response to your question [redacted] I think the overwhelming concerns were over the issue of a public vs private sending, many people also wanted amendments made before we were to agree but then we couldn't agree on what those amendments would be.
However, the NSW participant in the meeting responds by pointing out that the Young Greens "have sent Maltzahn a public letter" in the past and that "it got no response", adding:
My issue is that sex workers and sex worker organisations are actually looking for us to take a public stance. It's really disappointing that we can't, particularly when we wouldn't be silent about homophobic, racist or transphobic Greens candidates.
However, the first Victorian participant responds citing the need for caution:
I think we have to be cautious, particularly now post Batman, about making a public statement like this. I don't think the message seen to the public or media will be that we should do more to support sex workers (which is extremely unfortunate), but that the Greens are infighting again and we might actually do more harm than good with this.
Which is interesting I must say. The attacks against Alex Bhathal by her own branch during the Batman by-election were purely personal and opportunistic because the attackers didn't get their own way in a preselection. The idea of coming out against Maltzahn is merely seeking to critique and condemn her, publicly, on policy grounds and her personal position regarding sex work. Her personal position on the issue, mind you, that contradicts the Greens own stated policy position.
A NSW participant in the meeting is also scathing in response:
I strongly disagree, I honestly could not care less about the infighting. We should be supporting sex workers despite how that might impact our vote.
Another NSW participant also comments, supporting the above:
Sex workers who I've discussed this with don't want to support or allow a SWERF to win or even be a candidate. This is about survival, not infighting.
However, the Victorian participant was not having a bar of it:
How we perceive this ... though is different to those outside of our circles and should be carefully considered. We might not care about the infighting, but there are a lot of people who do and we are willing to put this over the rights of sex workers.
The last sentence is particularly telling and is clearly the perspective of someone who has never traversed outside of their own inter-party circles. How ironic.
The two NSW participants respond by saying that "not supporting sex workers is worse than disagreement within a party" and that they are not willing "to put party solidarity ahead of the rights of sex workers". A back and forth ensues, reinforcing points made earlier by the NSW participants that a private letter had been sent to Maltzahn in the past, to no response.
A NSW participant then responds with:
I'm honestly a bit shocked that so many things are being put before prioritising sex workers though.
To which the Victorian participant snaps and responds with:
[name redacted] I think that's a really disrespectful thing to keep insinuating about Victoria, because it's absolutely not true and I ask you to please stop repeating this. Knowing the discussion that we had for over four hours, sex workers have been at the forefront of this decision and it's not something we have taken lightly.
Which, mind you, completely contradicts the earlier point that was made by this same person; the point about being 'willing to put the image of the party ahead of the rights of sex workers'.
A participant from Western Australia interjects, correctly pointing out that considering sex workers and prioritising sex workers are two different things. The participant also pointed out that there had been no detail disclosed about the meeting of the Victorian Young Greens that took place, to which the Victorian participant responded by saying that "I can't discuss more detail because the meeting was in-camera for privacy".
The NSW participant jumps in again, saying:
[name redacted], sex workers have protested Greens events and asked us to come out publicly. They don't need to be considered, we know what they actually want us to do.
Indeed, they are correct.
The discussion dies down from this point, though the second Victorian participant does seek the need to reinforce the point of prioritising unity for electoral sake ahead of the rights of sex workers:
There's a lot going on down [in Victoria] at the moment. [Melbourne] Lord Mayor campaign, we're running training sessions, state election campaigns are kicking off and that's not to mention the continued Batman fallout.
It is clear as day that there are some within the Young Greens, particularly from Victoria, who are more willing to put the image of the party ahead of the rights of sex workers. It is also rather hypocritical as this would not come into consideration if a Greens candidate was openly racist or homophobic, they would be disendorsed or publicly responded to on the spot - so why are they willing to be wishy-washy on the rights of sex workers by not openly opposing a candidate who has openly stated she would vote against Greens policy if elected?
The answer: because the Greens view sex workers as expedient, and the party would prefer to put electoral respectability ahead of principles.
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.