Selecting the next Green Senators

The different Greens State and Territory parties have either recently conducted, or are in the process of deciding on their lead Senate candidates for the next Federal election.

For the Greens, the Senate is still the main game, so the top spot is the ultimate prize, particularly given the 2010 results.

As I’ve seen very little reporting of this preselection process, I decided to conduct a journalism experiment by asking the various State and Territory branches of the Greens some questions. Three, the Victorian, Queensland and Tasmanian Greens, came back to me with answers and I’ve had an off-the-record backgrounding from some in the NSW Greens. I’m happy to update this post if the others come back to me later.

What I’m interested in is how the Greens structures engage with their membership, given one of their philosophical foundations is grassroots democracy. So which State branches practice what they preach?

In contrast to the two major parties, which are run by executives in head office, the Greens involve members in key decisions and our campaigns are powered by thousands of ordinary people volunteering their time, skills and support. (From the Australian Greens.)

Queensland is currently running their preselection with the winner being announced on 8 September at their State Council. Ballots are mailed to “all ratified members who are on the Queensland electoral roll.” There are three direct membership emails, at least two forums, a DVD and a direct election mailout. There is also an open social media campaign, but I have been unable to find any active discussions online about the preselection.

The first three positions on the Senate ballot are elected during the ballot.

Victoria has a similar process, and required candidates to have four nominees. Members were also able to “promote their chosen candidates to others.”

Candidates could also promote themselves with “websites, Facebook ads, leaflets at meetings and by emailing people whose addresses they had”, but were not permitted to use internal party contact lists.

Some Victorian branches organised their own forums, and four official candidate meetings were held. The rest of the ballot will be filled by the campaign committee and the successful candidate was Janet Rice.

Citing the time pressures caused by the resignation of Senator Bob Brown, Peter Whish-Wilson was selected by the executive of the Tasmanian Greens. The executive has representatives from each of the five branches, office bearers and from each level of government. The process for selection was:

“There was no ballot but we received more than 10 applications to fill the vacancy. Four applicants were interviewed for the vacancy and then two were interviewed a second time before the decision was made to endorse Peter Whish-Wilson as the party’s nomination to fill the Senate vacancy and be the lead candidate at the next Senate election.”

A consideration in filling the remainder of the ticket in Tasmania includes the following curious comment from the Tasmanian Campaign Director:

“Tasmania is in a different position to many of the other state Green parties because of its small population and strong public divisions on political issues involving the Greens. Traditionally, being identified as a Green has killed off chances of jobs in the public sector and in certain parts of the private sector, hence pre-selection processes have not been as public as in other states out of consideration for applicants’ career prospects. The executive is considering ways of involving members in the decision-making process without compromising the confidentiality that applicants often seek.”

For NSW, a postal ballot, and information on candidates was sent to all financial members. A total of six official candidate meetings were held around NSW and some local groups organised for candidates to speak at their meetings.

An internal blog was set up for discussion, but using online or social media to discuss the preselection or to advocate for or by candidates was not permitted. The first three positions on the ballot were elected, with Cate Faehrmann elected at the top.

Of the four States, only NSW ran a parallel ballot in case of a double dissolution election, with Lee Rhiannon preselected.

So what to make of all this? Three of the States conducted member-wide ballots, but it seems a strange decision by NSW to restrict discussion of the candidates from any engagement online. The decision was not popular among some Greens and caused contention at the State Delegate’s Council meeting when discussed. It seems a backwards step, particularly compared to other States.

However, it is the Tasmanian Greens who stand out as the least committed to the implementation of grassroots democracy. Given Senator Brown resigned on 13 April, it does not seem unreasonable for Tasmanian Greens’ members to have been given far more of a say in the selection of his replacement.

[My sincere thanks to the Victorian, Queensland and Tasmanian Greens for their participation in this experiment. And to those in NSW willing to talk.]

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About bluntshovels

Freelance writer, with an unhealthy interest in Senate committees.
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10 Responses to Selecting the next Green Senators

  1. Dr_Tad says:

    My understanding is that Senate preselections by the Tasmanian Greens are always done by an appointed committee that vets and interviews applicants.

  2. It’s worth noting that the Tasmanian ALP was replacing a Senator at the same time as the Greens. The Tasmanian ALP selected its replacement through a postal ballot of all its members. It’s quite stark that in Tasmania the Greens are the least open and democratic while Labor is the most democratic and open in its internal processes.

    • Dr_Tad says:

      It’s not surprising. The origins of the Tasmanian Greens are so different to those of the NSW Greens. I talked a bit about it here: http://overland.org.au/previous-issues/issue-199/feature-tad-tietze/

      The other thing is that the Tasmanian Greens grew into a membership party from a base as a group of likeminded MPs in parliament, and so the party has a history of the membership expecting to be subordinate to the needs of the parliamentary fraction. This helps explain the different democratic culture there compared with, say, the NSW, WA or Queensland branches — which all had to do the hard yards of building a membership base outside parliament. Funny bit is they don’t like talking about it!

      • bluntshovels says:

        One of the Greens staffers has asked me to update the post on the Tasmanian process, so I will tomorrow. Also, have had official NSW Greens response, so will add that too. Good that NSW came back to me on this, as it would have been a surprise, of all the States, if NSW wasn’t up for this kind of experiment.

        I agree, Dr_Tad, they certainly don’t like to talk about it. Did you note the remark about what it’s like to be a Green in Tassie?

  3. bluntshovels says:

    And welcome to the shovel pit, Dr_Tad and Oz. Interested in your thoughts on the estate tax issue.

    • Dr_Tad says:

      I was there for the first couple of rounds of the internal debate on the estate tax. It was fear of the spectre of Joh Bjelke-Petersen, of all things. There was also the attempt to change the schools funding policy to get rid of the policy that says that private schools funding should be prevented from rising at all. SHY & CM ran the line that private school parents are people with “values” and Greens people are people with “values”.

      But there is more to be said about the policy process that is going on now. Some other time…

      • Mary says:

        >>But there is more to be said about the policy process that is going on now. Some other time…<<

        Do tell!

  4. For an estate tax. The main argument against it by most who claim to be left-leaning is the fearmongering of a death duty rather than on whether it is good or not. To respond to it, I’d suggest adopting a more progressive approach as suggested by Rawls where the level of taxation is based on the wealth of the recipient.

    • bluntshovels says:

      I think that is part of my point – that consideration of fearmongering is no way to make good policy. Both evidence and the prism of principle can be more illuminating than any front page of the Telegraph.

  5. Pingback: Update to Greens Senate preselections | bluntshovels

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