As Greens, Grassroots Democracy is a key principle, one of our four pillars. So why shouldn’t members be involved in the election of the parliamentary leader? The April 13 plebiscite to decide our leadership election process is our best opportunity to democratise the Australian Greens leadership.
Around the world progressive political parties have moved towards democratic leadership models. Every two years the leadership of the UK Greens is decided by a membership ballot. Both the New Zealand Greens and the German Greens elect their co-leaders at a General Meeting (elected by member delegates).
The UK Labour Party elects their leader one member one vote. Candidates require 15 per cent of the parliamentary caucus to nominate them as leader. Even the UK Conservative Party gives members a say. Their parliamentary caucus selects two candidates through a ballot process to present to the membership of the whole party and party members vote, on a ‘one member one vote’ basis.
In public, our party shuns elitism. Our members can be trusted — Greens members are some of the most engaged of any political party in the country. There is no reason to believe our membership is not capable of making the right decision!
The parliamentary leader (or leaders) of the Australian Greens have a substantial set of uncodified powers partnered with unparalleled resourcing. The leader acts as a public figurehead for the Australian Greens, is treated as the point person for important negotiations with other parties, and provides leadership on the party’s strategy and messaging.
The leader decides how portfolios are allocated to other MPs (a majority of party room may change an allocation). The leader’s office is resourced with a very large number of staff who participate in parliamentary, community and internal party matters. Staff participate in all major national decision-making committees influencing policy, governance and strategy across the party. These significant powers and resources of the parliamentary leader’s office should only be granted democratically.
By democratising leadership elections, we can engage a huge number of members in genuine political debate. This could lead to membership growth, membership retention and increased
political confidence. Disengaged and alienated members leave political parties. The parliamentary leader needs to be popular with the progressive public, Greens members are the best test.
Labor’s model isn’t right
Hybrid models create two separate classes of members. They frame leadership elections as a conflict between the support of regular members and the support of the elected members creating an antagonistic relationship between people who should be working together.
As seen in the Australian Labor Party this can create internal frustration and disunity. Throughout Bill Shorten’s leadership he was contrasted with Albanese, the candidate who received the majority of the membership vote.
Aside from risk, a hybrid model entrenches elitism by weighting the opinion of a small group of individuals far higher than the views held by ordinary members. In a leadership election, a 50 per cent vote weighting to Party Room would give an individual MP an equivalent number of votes to roughly 1,500 members.
A better way
A survey of more than 2,000 party members (in 2018/19) indicated that just 30 per cent of participants thought that the current model for electing the parliamentary leader should continue. In Richard Di Natale’s speech to the 2016 National Conference he said, “the time is now right for our 15,000 strong membership across the country to have a frank and open debate around the options for membership involvement in the election of the Parliamentary Leader.”
Our NSW Senator Mehreen Faruqi has long supported One Member One Vote, and the new Parliamentary leader Adam Bandt wants the membership to have more say. Right now the parliamentary leader is exclusively selected by the Party Room. That’s just 10 people. Members have no influence and there is no consultation. The current process hinders discussion, promotes deal making and factionalism.
On 13 April let’s encourage grassroots participation and give members an equal say — One Member, One Vote.
Dylan is the Greens NSW delegate to the Australian Greens National Council and a Conference delegate.
If you would like information about the membership plebiscite and the campaign for One Member, One Vote you can contact Dylan on email or Twitter.