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The Greens NSW

Speeches in Parliament
Lee Rhiannon 27 Jun 2018

Senator RHIANNON (New South Wales) (22:08): The Greens New South Wales is the party I joined in 1990, the party I'm very proud to be a member of, the party that has consistently shown what a well-organised, small, left-wing party can achieve. I want to put some of our electoral achievements on the record, as our results have been misrepresented in ways that have contributed to the false narrative that the Greens New South Wales is underperforming. In fact, the opposite is the case.

The Greens New South Wales' electoral achievements include a number of historic firsts that, if acknowledged, bring credit to the Australian Greens. The first Greens party was formed in NSW. We were the first to win a single-member lower house seat in a general state election. We achieved this in 2011 in the seat of Balmain, when Jamie Parker became the local Greens member. We now have eight New South Wales MPs: five in the New South Wales upper house and three in the New South Wales lower house. In 2015, the Greens won the newly created state seat of Newtown with a primary vote of 46 per cent, the highest vote ever achieved by the Greens in a state or federal election. That record still holds. Jenny Leong was our candidate for the seat of Newtown, and she's now the Greens MP. The Greens New South Wales notched up another first for the Australian Greens in that same election. We won the first seat off the Nationals, when Tamara Smith became the Greens MP for Ballina. Our state Greens MPs play active and often successful roles in campaigns as diverse as those for Aboriginal justice, against fossil fuel mining, to curb plastic packaging, opposing privatisation of public services and assets, supporting larger and more-secure marine and national parks, for stronger anti-corruption laws, for more rights for renters and for better-funded public schools, TAFE and public transport.

Turning to our federal performance, Greens New South Wales won its first Senate seat in 2001, when Kerry Nettle was elected. We were the third state, after Western Australia and Tasmania, to win a Senate seat for the Greens. The first House of Representatives seat won by the Australian Greens was in New South Wales. It was in 2002 that Michael Organ became the Greens MP for Cunningham, on the New South Wales South Coast. Yes, that seat was won in a by-election, but it was still a big breakthrough. In 2010, I was elected a Greens senator in New South Wales, with the party polling 10.69 per cent of the vote. This is the highest vote ever achieved by the Greens in New South Wales in a Senate election. The Greens New South Wales Senate vote in that election, however, was lower than that for other state Greens parties across the country.

A significant reason for that lower Senate result was how the $1.6 million that Graeme Wood donated to the Australian Greens was used. This money was spent on advertising to assist the Greens election campaign in every state and territory except New South Wales. No money was offered to the Greens New South Wales. If any money had been offered to New South Wales, I doubt that we would have accepted it, as we oppose large political donations on the basis that they potentially buy influence and distort our democracy. The Greens Senate results in 2010 are informative. They demonstrate that big money buys advertising that, in turn, can win over voters. The results also show how an empowered party—in this case, the Greens New South Wales—where members have a major say in the campaign that is promoting policies for the public good can increase votes without relying on big donations. Our members work incredibly hard on election campaigns, and that is why I was elected as an MP and why the Greens have had the electoral success that we have achieved in New South Wales. Members control party campaigns.

Since 2010, there has been some decline in the Australians Greens vote. Some people assert that the Greens New South Wales is causing the slump in the nationwide Greens vote. That is ridiculous. I'm not keen on making comparisons of Greens New South Wales voting achievements to those of other states, but I have decided to put this on the record, as the misinformation about the Greens New South Wales and myself is quite shocking. Recent Greens election results have been inconsistent, but they include strong results in the Queensland 2017 state election and the New South Wales local government elections in both 2016 and 2017.

Obviously a party's vote is determined primarily by one's political stance but organisational factors right through to the party's position on the ballot paper are relevant. The following Greens vote figures by state show that a number of Greens state parties have experienced a higher drop in their federal vote when compared to the drop in the Greens New South Wales vote. Compared to 2010, the 2016 Greens Senate vote in New South Wales dropped by 3.3 per cent, in Western Australia by 3.4 per cent and in Victoria by 3.8 per cent. In Tasmania, the Greens Senate vote declined by 9 per cent since the 2010 high-water mark. A similar trend is evident in the Greens House of Representatives vote. I am highlighting that this voting data is not consistent with the narrative built about the Greens New South Wales. The unethical attacks on the Greens New South Wales do not help anyone other than the opponents of the Greens.

True, in percentage terms the Greens primary vote in New South Wales is not as high as it is in Victoria and Tasmania, although it is higher than in some other states. Compared with New South Wales, no other Greens state party has such a high proportion of federal seats with unfavourable demographics—seven non-coastal conservative rural seats and 12 solid working-class multicultural seats in western and south-western Sydney. We have campaigned in those seats for years, and we are slowly increasing our vote. The challenge these areas present for progressive causes was on display in last year's marriage equality poll. New South Wales had the lowest vote in favour of marriage equality of all the states and territories. Only 17 of the nation's 150 federal electorates voted no, and 12 of them were in New South Wales.

I've set out these variables to correct the misinformation about the Greens New South Wales vote. Local government election results are a further example of the success of the Greens New South Wales grassroots approach to political campaigning. At present there are 58 Greens local councillors across the state, including five mayors, three of them popularly elected. Almost half of the population in New South Wales now live in a municipality or shire where there is a Greens councillor they can consult.

The commitment of the Greens New South Wales to grassroots democracy was evident in the participation by our members in the recent campaign throughout the state that succeeded in saving 40 local councils from amalgamation into supercouncils. The electoral success of the Greens in New South Wales needs to be seen in the context of a decision the state party took in the early 2000s to not accept any donations from for-profit companies and to strictly limit the size of all donations. We were criticised by some prominent Greens for taking this stance, but it was a winner—a decision that demonstrated to the public and the media that we would stand by our policies. Our stance won support in terms of electoral success, and in time our strong campaigning on the issue helped change the law on political donations in New South Wales.

The Greens New South Wales is particularly proud of its practice of grassroots democracy. For instance, our candidates have always been chosen directly by the members, and we have a constitution that puts considerable power and resources in the hands of our local groups—what many people call party branches. When the Australian Greens was formed in 1992, the Greens New South Wales backed the federation model that was adopted, rather than a centralised, top-down organisation. While some have attempted to centralise the party, the federation model, with an emphasis on member involvement, not only is an ideological commitment but also has been critical to our electoral success. The great strength of the Greens in New South Wales and around the country resides in its members. In New South Wales we do not accept corporate donations, which so often carry an odious political influence. Nor do we enjoy the grace and favour of media mainstream organisations.

This false narrative that I've set out to dispel is not just a media construct. The comments by some Greens members on the ABC's Four Corners and 7.30and in some print media have helped drive this incorrect analysis. Our successes are due to our members. When the Greens in New South Wales are denigrated, it is those rank and file members who are being attacked. But I believe that those attacks, from whatever source, have not and do not deter members from pursuing a world based on our four founding principles: ecological sustainability, grassroots democracy, social and economic justice, and peace and disarmament—a pursuit that already has achieved significant success. Thank you.

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