Part 3 – The Maelstrom

Warning: This post was previously password protected. It has now been made public since it now has limited, if any, relevance to the internal workings of the NSW Greens. A significant number of the issues raised here have now been wholly or partially addressed or are in the process of being addressed

As I originally stated this blog was leaked to Crikey by a person or persons unknown, most probably from the Inner Sydney Greens. The media then published all or parts of it based on the idea that it was true.

For others, especially those in the Greens NSW with a sense of humour that is developmentally constrained. It’s supposed to be funny. If it’s not then that’s your problem – you take yourself too seriously – you should consider joining the Mormons or the Scientologists. The Greens are not supposed to be a cult.

The Wylies Baths election and weather report

The weather at Wylie’s today is rainy.


Episode 3 Understanding the madhouse

Into the Maelstrom

Most nights are slow in the politics business, but every once in a while you get a fast one, a blast of wild treachery and weirdness that not even the hard boys can handle.

From Apres Moi, le Deluge Hunter S Thompson, San Francisco Examiner, December 23, 1985

Arriving in an office for a new job is a bit like the opening night of a new play. Everyone has read the previews but no one is quite sure how each scene will play out. So it is at the NSW Greens.

It’s only just over 3 months to the election and there are just five staff members employed, three of them part-time. One of them is temporary and doesn’t know if she will still have a job in a week and the other is my predecessor, the interim coordinator.

So in reality other than myself there are really just one full-time and two part-time staff members. No problems running an election campaign then.

The lack of staff is just one problem. There are also the parallel structures. Not for the NSW Greens a simple hierarchal structure with an executive officer at the “top” and everyone else working with that person.

Historically the NSW organisation, like the MPs, has had no leadership. Like Animal Farm all the staff were created equal and they reported to a Committee of Management (COM) an entirely volunteer body none of whom necessarily have ever managed an organisation.

Six months prior to the election the organisation finally appointed an executive officer to manage the day to day operations. Always a good time to be trying to create order out of chaos.

Then in order to ensure the appropriate level of carnage and confusion, you create a second parallel structure “the campaign team” which reports to the Campaign Coordinator (yours truly).

On top of that you create a second management structure “SECC” (the State Election Campaign Committee). SECC is deliberately structured not to work well. Each section of the party with a vested interest in access to resources is allowed to have a representative or at least a spokesperson.

Each of these people then argues vigorously for their own vested interest. It’s a form of equal opportunity nepotism.

Finally to ensure that no one understands anything, no one knows what anyone is doing and to make doubly sure that you have created a sort of leaderless, accountability-less morass somewhat akin some Heath Robinson contraption, you add in a bunch of MPs, some candidates, several electorates that run their own races, and 56 local groups.

This makes the NSW Greens interesting to look at, impossible to understand and inordinately complex. The structure breaks down frequently and is like a clock where half the parts run clockwise and the other half anti-clockwise.

From these ingredients the challenge is to create an election team, organise all the elements of an election campaign, negotiate the labyrinthine workings of the party and meet the goals set by the state council meeting. All this must be done on a budget smaller than Gina Rinehart’s dinner bill and in a timeframe shorter than Tony Abbott’s attention span.

The first job is to hire a campaign team, starting with a Communications Coordinator. The NSW Greens do not have a permanent Communications Coordinator, which may seem strange for an organisation the sole function of which is to communicate.

In fact they do not have any media or communications staff at all, not even social media. The party has not yet noticed the existence of Facebook and Twitter let alone the myriad other means of communication dating back several centuries.

The campaign team, when hired, will have several goals, principally to win the seats of Newtown and Balmain and win a third upper house seat, as well as support the campaigns in Ballina and Lismore and build the party’s campaigning and organisational capacity.

These goals were set by the State Delegates Council (state council). Very noble goals indeed.

The problem is that aside from the local groups around Newtown, Balmain, Lismore and Ballina, none of the local groups on state council which voted for these goals actually supported them.

This is called “in principal” support – it’s a bit like often washed jocks – useful in theory but absolutely useless when support is really required.

In the NSW Greens “in principle” means you support something when nothing is at stake but then argue vigorously for the opposite outcome if your previous in principle support means other people get the dollars or the power.

Week one comes and goes. Like all first weeks it is a getting to know you exercise. I get to know the peacetime (permanent) staff, the campaign staff, such as they currently are, the staff of Tier 1 electorates (Newtown and Balmain) and miscellaneous others.

I also get to know the members of SECC – the election management committee. Our future Kiwi team member will pronounce it as SUCK, which some might allege is an appropriate name. It, like many Greens NSW bodies, manages to be less than the sum of its parts.

I am three months from an election campaign. I have virtually no staff. I have only a vague idea what I am doing. I have election goals everyone will hate, in practice. I have a budget about half of what is needed. I have no materials, no communications coordinator, no community organising team and most importantly no espresso machine. All is as it should be in the world.

Previous episodes:

Episode 1, The Oxymoronic offer:

Episode 2, Into the Bearpit:

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