Friday, June 22, 2018

Today by Paddy Manning

Green tensions build
The Batman by-election loss cannot be swept under the carpet


Tensions in the Greens’ dominant Victorian division are coming to a head after the party’s state council last weekend produced a review of the disastrous Batman by-election campaign, in which six-time candidate Alex Bhathal was undermined by internal rivals and smeared as a bully. The confidential review, which recommends no sanctions against any person, has been described by Bhathal supporters as a “whitewash”. A motion to be put to the Batman campaign committee next week will call on Greens leader Richard Di Natale to finally move for the expulsion of three prominent Greens, including sitting Darebin Councillor Trent McCarthy.

Simon Jarman, convenor of the Batman federal election campaign committee of the Greens, says that he has “had enough” and that the treatment of Bhathal during the by-election campaign could not go unpunished. “I grew up in Sydney in the ’80s and I remember when [Labor MP] Peter Baldwin was bashed to within an inch of his life. The attack on Alex Bhathal may not have been physical, but it was just as brutal as what those people did, and they’ve suffered no consequences. I can’t belong to a party that does that to someone.” Jarman, who is poised to quit the party, said peace and non-violence was supposed to be one of the Greens’ four “pillars” (the others being ecological sustainability, social justice and participatory democracy). “I’ve watched people take an axe to those pillars,” he said.

Bhathal was subject of a 101-page complaint lodged in January by 18 members of her Darebin branch, the biggest in the country, seeking her deselection as the party’s endorsed candidate for the federal seat of Batman (renamed Cooper by the electoral commission this week). The complaint was described [$] in The Australian as “frivolous” and was formally dismissed by the party. However, damaging leaks against Bhathal continued throughout the campaign, including to veteran ABC Radio host Jon Faine and The Age Victorian political editor, Noel Towell. By the end of the campaign, hundreds of Bhathal’s posters were defaced with “bully” stickers.

Batman was one of the Greens’ few winnable lower house seats, but was won by former ACTU president Ged Kearney for Labor. Sources close to Kearney’s campaign have said that members of the Darebin Greens were leaking to Labor during the by-election, and suggest that the internal attacks on Bhathal were in effect licenced from the top of the party, including by Victorian Greens co-convenor Colin Jacobs. Jarman’s motion will call on the party to expel three signatories to the original complaint against Bhathal:  Councillor McCarthy, Jim Buckell and James Murphy.

The confidential Batman review recommended independent management of the Darebin branch “with a focus on conflict resolution and good governance”, and a Q&A session will be held with the branch on Sunday with state secretary Alister Air to discuss the potential appointment of an administrator. A meeting of 25 Darebin members on Tuesday is understood to have opposed the move, which has been described as a “takeover”, but a compromise solution may be found ahead of a final decision at a state council meeting at the end of the month. A spokesman for the Greens said the party was on the verge of reaching a solution that would be acceptable to all sides.

On a private Facebook page for Bhathal supporters, which has 667 followers, the Victorian party’s leadership, including Jacobs, and his partner, Victorian Greens leader Samantha Ratnam, former state Greens leader Greg Barber, and Australian Greens leader Richard Di Natale, are nicknamed “the borg” – a reference to the hive-minded alien drones of Star Trek. A comment on the page noted: “If the Greens fail to expel, and otherwise sanction, as a result of this treachery, they will be committing political suicide. It’s that serious, and that simple.”

The Greens in Victoria have traditionally been more unified than other state divisions, and the party is hoping to increase its representation in the forthcoming state election and hang on to the state seat of Northcote, which sits partly within the boundaries of Batman and was won by Lidia Thorpe in a by-election late last year. Victorian Greens sources say the state is not as openly factionalised as New South Wales, for example, but there is nonetheless a divide between grassroots activists and the more pragmatic parliamentary “careerists”. Tensions between the state party leadership and Bhathal apparently date back to a 2013 dispute during the recruitment of former state director Larissa Brown, now a senior adviser to Di Natale.Bhathal is the endorsed candidate to recontest Batman at the next federal election, but is yet to decide whether she will stand.


An earlier version of this article reported incorrectly that a meeting to discuss the complaint against Alex Bhathal was held between Colin Jacobs, Councillor McCarthy, Jim Buckell and James Murphy. The Monthly Today accepts there was no such meeting, and regrets the error. 

since this morning

Bill Shorten has blasted Malcolm Turnbull’s personal income tax cuts as a “dodgy cheque” [$] that voters won’t be able to cash for at least seven years, and possibly not at all, The Australian reports.

In The Guardian, Amanda Meade asks whether publication of an anti-ABC opinion piece in Monday’s Sydney Morning Herald is evidence of a rightward lurch under executive group editor James Chessell.

in case you missed it

The prime minister is moving to add to his victory in parliament on personal income tax cuts by striking a deal with One Nation on $35.6 billion in company tax reform. In the AFR, Phillip Coorey writes [$] that “for the first time in a long while, the government is genuinely invigorated”.

Pauline Hanson has vowed [$] to do everything she can to keep Bill Shorten out of The Lodge, saying the Opposition leader would be “the worst bloody prime minister we’ve ever had”, after Labor launched robo-calls targeting her in the Queensland seat of Longman.

Coalition backbenchers are speaking up for the Turnbull government’s energy plan in the face of growing complaints from former prime minister Tony Abbott. They insist the policy has “overwhelming” partyroom support.

The Victorian parliament has passed legislation that will create a framework for negotiating a treaty with Aboriginal people.

Fairfax Media reports that a controversial US government report into the effects of chemical contaminants found in fire-fighting foam and non-stick cooking materials has found the family of industrial chemicals is even more toxic than previously thought.

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Paddy Manning

Paddy Manning is contributing editor (politics) at The Monthly and has worked for the ABC, Fairfax, Crikey and The Australian. He is the author of Inside the Greens and the unauthorised biography of Malcolm Turnbull, Born To Rule?


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