The Greens are a party of conservatism. We like to think of ourselves as progressive, innovative, different, creative. The party of compassion, of equity and equality.
But we are far from that……
Increasingly we are party of conservatism, of political petulance, of in-fighting, of pride and prima donnas. Far from being open to change and self-examination of our own faults our primary inclination is to cover up our faults and to shoot the messenger.
Far from being open and honest, we are secretive and dishonest. If it is wrong, we often pretend it is not so; my party wrong or right. Whether if be factionalism, bullying or harassment (sexual or otherwise). Whether it be naked seeking of power, hubris or misplaced pride or arrogance. This is the route to corruption and cults.
That is not to say that there are not a myriad of good things happening internally and externally. That the party is not full of people we can all admire and whose integrity is unquestioned. It is not to say that there is no change and that there are a not some great new initiatives. But we could be so much better.
We need to stop pretending the present system of representative politics works. It may be political but it is certainly not representative at any level. We need to pull down a system of internal pre-selection that leads to infighting, to abuse, to self-selection, often, by those who are least worthy, and to careerism.
We should be advocating for new ways of doing politics, based on sortition and direct democracy. We should be advocating much more vigorously for proportional representation.
Internally we need much stronger and more independent processes that ensure integrity, that address bullying and harassment and that provide proper, clear processes for complaints that are completely free of interference by party office bearers, MPs or others with internal power.
If you are, like me, dismayed at the recent behaviour of some ‘senior’ members of the Australian and NSW Greens then you are not alone.
I joined the Greens hoping to be part of a party that not only had better policies but better politics. But I have been badly disappointed recently and the overwhelming majority of Greens’ members feel the same way.
Make no mistake, when the mainstream media talk about division in the Greens, they are not talking about you and I but about a small number of people numbering probably no more than 50 to 100 people in total, even though the portrayal is of an entire party in turmoil.
We are all besmirched by the infantile egotism of a small number of people fighting in public over control of the party. And this is not about policy or left and right. I know for a fact that many of the people on the so-called left are no more left than those they idly characterise as Tree-Tories (the right).
By the same token the critics of those on the so-called left ignore the fact that the policies and advocacy work of those “left” or “socialist” MPs is fundamentally aligned with the values of the party. You cannot be an environmentalist and support capitalism – the two are mutually contradictory.
The vast majority of ordinary members just wish the politicians, the ex-politicians and the backroom power brokers would find a nice box into which to put their over-sized egos and then permanently lock that box.
It doesn’t matter which side of the so-called factional fence on which you sit (if any side, because most do not belong to factions) there is no way to characterise the behaviour of recent times other than entirely counter-productive and hypocritical. The best word for it is puerile.
The very people behaving in this puerile manner, be they part of the so-called NSW left faction (Rhiannon et al), the right (Buckingham et al) or the current Federal MPs, leaders or ex-party leaders, are the very first people to criticise members of the Labor and Coalition parties for exactly the same sort of puerile counter-productive and divisive debate on the floor of the Federal Parliament.
We see it every day in our Parliaments. Behaviour which if it was from a child would lead to that child being grounded indefinitely. And now we see it repeated in our own party. It would not be so bad if the divisions were over real policy issues. But they are not – they are largely over numbers and control. Over who runs the party and how they run it.
And where does this behaviour spring from? It springs from the never ending delusion of many (but not all) people who stand for public office that they are better than everyone else, smarter, better informed, more often right. That’s why many of them stand in the first place – they believe, via their own narcissism, that they are the best people to speak for 70,000 to 100,000 others.
So far as I can tell it doesn’t matter which political party one examines, the types of people who run the parties and who stand as politicians often share similar personality types.
Those in the Greens may be more moral and ethical than many politicians (certainly than the the leadership of the Coalition and Labor Parties) in a general sense. They may be great campaigners and they may be held up as iconic public figures, in some cases.
The policies they advocate may be infinitely better than those of Labor and the LNP but, as people, they suffer, in many cases, the same personality defects that infest politicians in Labor and the Coalition. And those defects manifest themselves in the behaviour we have seen, internally in the Greens, recently.
These are defects which we all have to some degree, but which, in the case of politicians and political power brokers, are amplified a hundred fold by the attention the power, the adulation and the public platforms we give them.
In essence, one could argue that anyone who puts their hand up to be elected should be permanently disqualified from standing.
So long as the leadership of our political parties and our country are self-selected through self-nomination for internal pre-selections within each party and, at the same time, we have a form of first past the post election that inherently gives rise, to a confrontational two-party House of Representatives, our democracy is doomed to permanent dysfunction.
Those problems are compounded by the professionalisation of politics, the absence of term limits and the corruption of the two major parties by money and influence.
The only way the Greens can avoid the same pitfalls as the other parties is a radical shift away from pre-selection based nominations of candidates to one based on Sortition and much stricter term limits on elected MPs.
The question is could Sortition work at a state or national level? It could. A system along the lines described below (albeit with much fine tuning) would ensure a much more democratic, non-elite and well qualified party. And if done by all parties would end up with a genuinely democratic and representative citizen parliament. What could be more in line with Greens values?
Within the Greens, all members would automatically be entered into a lottery for pre-selection. The first 500 drawn would then be offered the opportunity to stand for Parliament.
At that point anyone not wanting to do so could withdraw. If there were then insufficient candidates for each electorate and the upper house, the exercise would be repeated with a second group – until such time that were sufficient candidates state-wide. Ideally a second group (reserves) would also be drawn.
At this point the selected candidates would be need to pre-qualify via a test on party principles, policies and general knowledge of key issues, as well as general ethics and values. Why, after all, should MPs be the only professional group in the country who is allowed to serve with no qualifications, no testing of knowledge, of skills or of competency.
If after this process there were too few candidates the reserve group of members from the lottery would be offered the chance to stand.
No candidate would be permitted to serve more than eight years (two lower house or one upper house term) or be selected by the Greens to move to another Parliament if they had already served their full allotment of years.
These pre-selection reforms should be combined with similar administrative reforms internally which prevent monopolies on power developing and which reduce the influence of MPs in the party and strengthen the party’s campaigning and administrative arms. Local groups should be strengthened, fundraising prioritised and regional organising capacity improved.
The party needs to start thinking about root and branch reform, not just tinkering at the edges of reform. After all if we cannot reform ourselves how can we expect to reform the country.