This week Greens members around the country should receive their ballot paper to vote in a plebiscite to determine how the federal parliamentary leader of the Australian Greens will be selected.
I would like to explain how I am voting. There is some complexity because of the way the questions are phrased.
There are three options:
- The current leadership process that limits voting for the federal Greens leader to current federal Greens MPs;
- Adopting a One Member One Vote method that would weight all votes equally. (Note that each candidate for leader would need to be nominated by 20 per cent of Party Room MPs.)
- A 50:50 option where members and MPs in the federal Party Room would vote as two equal blocks; that is, the Party Room of ten votes would be equivalent to the vote of the nationwide membership, which is currently about 15,000 members.
I support One Member One Vote. The 50-50 option that gives the Party Room MPs vote a huge weighting compared to the vote of a Greens member is little better than the status quo. Superficially it looks like a compromise, but it isn’t. The MPs can still outvote and defeat the members’ decision unless a candidate has a massive win in the vote by the membership. The danger is that if the 50:50 model gets up it would kill off reform attempts to achieve One Member One Vote as it will be presented that reform has been achieved.
So this is how I am voting on the three plebiscite questions –
Q1. Support One Member One Vote over the current model.
Q2. I do not like either option. However, I will not abstain. I will support the status quo option over the 50:50 option. An abstention will not help defeat the 50:50 option.
Q3. Support One Member One Vote over the 50:50 option.
One of the spin offs of the current crisis brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic is the call for the emergence of strong social movements and greater democracy to curtail corporate power and neoliberal governments.
People’s right to have a say in their society, their government and any organisation they are involved with should be a given. And that “say” needs to include deciding on the leader. So it is extraordinary that at this time when the world needs greater democracy, members of the Australian Greens still do not get to vote on who their leader is.
The Greens is a party traditionally associated with expanding democracy and advocating for people power. Members are proud that one of the party’s four principles is grassroots democracy.
Understandably many people are surprised that the Australian Greens lag behind most Green and social democrat parties when it comes to democratic election of the leader.
The contradiction with the Greens principle of grassroots democracy has become sharper in recent days as three former party leaders, Bob Brown, Christine Milne and Richard di Natale, have gone public in their attempt to influence members not to support the more democratic option of One Member One Vote.
The disagreement has been on the back burner for the Australian Greens since it was decided in 2005 to have a leader.
Having spent seven years in the Greens federal Party Room I know that our Party Room does not always get it right.
It also disturbs me that there can be a conflict of interest for some MPs when they are electing the leader. Other key positions of two Deputy Leaders, Whip and Party Room Convenor are all chosen by the Party Room MPs at the same time as the leadership ballot. It is too tempting for some Greens MPs to get together, divide up the positions and vote as a bloc. That does not help Party Room unity, and means that merit for the position of leader and other positions is no longer the most important consideration.
If the Greens are serious about our principle of grassroots democracy then One Member One Vote has to be the clear winner in this member plebiscite. If the hybrid model of 50:50 is adopted we will be continuing with two classes of members – an elite group of Greens MPs and the rest of the membership. That is not a democratic system for electing a leader.