Senator Janet Rice acknowledges that “serious” issues have divided the Victorian Greens, including sexism and racism, but denies they are systemic, despite a slew of recent scandals and departures concerning candidates and members alike.
Greens candidate for the Melbourne seat of Lalor, Jay Dessi (pictured), quit the race after offensive and racist Facebook posts were made public.
In April, former Victorian Greens MP Nina Springle quit the party, citing “deep-seated cultural issues” the party is unwilling to address, in a Facebook post.
“Reforms that have been talked about tinker around the edges and go nowhere near the root causes of these problems,” she wrote.
Another former Victorian Greens MP, Samantha Dunn, also recently shared her frustration with the party’s “toxic” internal culture in a Facebook post announcing her decision to resign.
“I can no longer stand by and witness continued institutionalised victim blaming,” Dunn wrote. “I have seen people broken by this outdated and brutal organisational response, it is inhumane, driven by political expedience, and it will be at the long term [sic] peril of the Greens.”
The Victorian Greens have repeatedly rejected accusations of toxicity, despite reports of sexual misconduct, degrading treatment of women, bullying and the departure of one-third of party members.
Last November the party stood behind state candidate for Footscray Angus McAlpine, when it was reported he had recorded an album where he rapped demeaning lyrics including homophobic slurs and the use of date-rape drugs on women.
State candidate for Sandringham Dominic Phillips was stood down as a candidate two days before the election after being accused of sexual assault. The Greens previously stood by him when he was reported to have “liked” misogynistic and racist pages on Facebook.
Before Pringle and Dunn, longstanding Greens candidate Alex Bhathal quit the party in February, citing in a statement on her website “abuses of power and process” and “relentless organisational bullying within the Victorian Greens”.
In March 2018 Bhathal lost a by-election in Melbourne’s inner-north seat of Batman to Labor’s Ged Kearney, after internal accusations of bullying by Bhathal were made public.
Senator Rice said, “All the issues that have come up over the last 12 months have been really serious and needed to be seriously addressed. The party has learned an awful lot at a state and national level from each of those instances.
“In the party overall, there is still a strong culture of rejecting discrimination, of treating people well, of care and collaboration. There has been some erosion of that culture because we haven’t put enough resources into maintaining it.”
Victorian Greens Senate candidate Apsara Sabaratnam says the Greens do have structural and systemic cultural issues. The party’s culture of “non-confrontation and unwillingness to reflect is affecting us”, she says.
Sabaratnam says these issues are not limited to the Greens but represent “Australian cultural norms” that “permeate all organisations”.
“Even though [an organisation] might say we are progressive, our national culture still permeates. Unless we take concerted effort to actually go against the grain, we will never fix this problem.”
A senior Victorian Greens member says the party’s cultural issues include different treatment of women and people of colour who stood as candidates, and overlooking behaviour by male “star candidates” that is inconsistent with the party’s values.
According to this Greens member, Julian Burnside’s profile and popularity ensure the party will stand behind him through “anything that comes out”, such as the revelation that he was a member of the all-male Savage Club for 40 years. The club also holds Aboriginal and other Indigenous artefacts.
“Alex [Bhathal] was also in a winnable seat, so why didn’t the party stand behind her around these [alleged bullying] issues? Is there differential treatment because she is a woman, and a woman of colour? Yes, I really think so.”
Senator Rice disagrees that there is a double standard, saying prominent candidates “go through an even more stringent probity process.
“Julian was preselected as a candidate because of the amazing human rights work he has done. …
“The people who have a chance of being elected, they are going to be our representatives in Parliament. They have to be reflective of Greens values.
“Julian said … in terms of an all-male club that he had been fighting to change it. I don’t know what his attitude was about the racism” indicated by the club’s exhibition of Indigenous artefacts.
Senator Rice said the Victorian Greens reviewed their preselection and disputes processes after the state election.
This review was not completed in time to be implemented for federal preselections.
Senator Rice says the party will also employ a full-time human resources officer qualified to handle “sensitive” issues.
She provided no more detail on how the internal disputes processes would change, but noted amendments would be made to the party’s constitution, which was reviewed at a special state conference on 30 March.