Friday, 11 May 2018

New Matilda response

The following article has now been published in New Matilda

Cate Faehrmann

Michael Brull spits the dummy

In the middle of an internal Greens preselection, Michael Brull, a Greens member, has written for New Matilda a series of articles attacking a candidate – Cate Faehrmann. 

As he must know, candidates for preselection are not permitted to speak to journalists, and therefore have no right of reply. It is an archetypal act of cowardice to attack a person who is unable to defend herself.

Brull bases his farrago on a bizarre series of falsehoods. 

The articles arise from proceedings in the Supreme Court of New South Wales seeking an urgent interpretation of the NSW Greens constitution. The case is reported.

On 5 February 2018, Cate Faehrmann transferred her Victorian Greens membership to New South Wales. She wanted to stand for preselection for the Legislative Council.

She was a paid up member of the Greens in Victoria. She had previously been a member of the Greens in NSW and served there as a Greens Legislative Councillor from 2010 to 2013.

Astonishingly, Alex van Vucht, the membership officer of the Greens in NSW, treated Cate Faehrmann’s transferred membership as merely provisional for three months, thus denying her the right to nominate for preselection before the close of nominations on 9 April 2018.

This was contrary to the constitution of the NSW Greens and the constitution of the Australian Greens.

To break the impasse, Cate Faehrmann sought legal advice. 

I was one of those who advised, in a written advice provided to the Greens NSW, that there was no basis for treating her membership as provisional. Similar advice was rendered by a senior solicitor in New South Wales. 

Neither the membership officer nor the Greens NSW obtained any contrary advice.

Ultimately, Cate Faehrmann sought a ruling on the correct interpretation of the constitution from the NSW Supreme Court (I was not involved in that proceeding). The court ruled comprehensively in her favour.

Mr Brull repeatedly asserts that Cate Faehrmann was attempting to change the constitution. That is patently false. Cate Faehrmann was seeking to have the terms of the constitution obeyed. That was the whole point of the advice and of the subsequent legal proceeding.

The matter was taken to the Greens NSW State Delegates Council (‘SDC’). Mr Brull writes that the SDC was ‘was able to have a say about whether the rules should be changed. The membership declined to do so.’ This is not true. There was no decision to ‘decline’ to have a say, and nor was there any question of changing the rules. Rather, the position was that the issue of interpreting the constitution was deadlocked, and no decision was forthcoming.

As Hon Justice Ward, Chief Equity Judge of the NSW Supreme Court, put it to counsel for the NSW Greens:

There was no decision. So if there's no decision, what does somebody do? If a dispute is to be resolved by the delegates council and the delegates council is unable to resolve it, they're just left in limbo, are they?

Mr Brull goes on to assert about this process that ‘Greens processes had been followed and Faehrmann had lost’. This is a blatant reinvention of history. As Justice Ward’s judgment states:

there was ultimately no determination by the SDC as to the proper Interpretation of the constitution. The SDC neither resolved to determine in favour of the construction put forward by Ms Faehrmann nor resolved to determine in favour of the construction put forward by the Membership Officer.


Leaving aside the question whether members of The Greens NSW would be bound by an incorrect interpretation of the constitution were that to be adopted by the SDC, the fact is that the dispute as to the interpretation of the constitution on the issue in question has not been able to be determined by resolution of the SDC. 

Mr Brull’s narrative is one of hardworking party members following process and Cate Faehrmann blindly taking the party to court to pursue her own selfish agenda. Brull implies that Cate Faehrmann was seeking an ‘exception’ to the rules and asking office bearers to ‘bend the rules’. He writes ‘people who determine the rules – the officer bearers – are not supposed to have the autonomy to make exceptions, to help people out if they’re well-connected or prominent.’ 

Cate Faehrmann was not seeking an exception to the rules, rather the correct application of them. It is of course wrong for office bearers to bend the rules to prevent a legitimate candidate from running. 

Brull criticises Cate Faehrmann for not trying mediation. Why should she, especially when she faced an urgent deadline? She had already handed over legal advice. The office bearers had made no attempt to obtain any contrary advice, but rather maintained a bull-headed persistence in abusing the constitution. As Justice Ward put it:

it is difficult to see what scope there would have been for a mediated resolution of the dispute in the present case. You either agree that the rules allow for Greens members to transfer from another state as full members or not.

In the Supreme Court proceedings, lawyers for the Greens NSW (presumably on instructions), perhaps desperate to avoid the obvious wording of the constitution, tried to rely not on the published version of the constitution, but rather on a version of the constitution that sat with Fair Trading and was last updated in 2002. The judge rejected this attempt, but said that the relevant provisions were not materially different anyway, and the same result would have come from the older document.

Office bearers of the Greens NSW went to great lengths to stop Cate Faehrmann from running for preselection, risking the party’s reputation and finances in the courts. 

Brull’s attack looks like a last desperate attempt of the NSW old guard to protect its patch. It is a nasty coda to very poor behaviour by NSW Greens office bearers.

Hopefully, at some time in the future, Cate Faehrmann will have an opportunity to comprehensively respond.

Friday, 30 March 2018

The Beacon at Uluru

Section 25 of the Australian Constitution provides, to this day:

Provision as to races disqualified from voting

For the purposes of the last section, if by the law of any State all persons of any race are disqualified from voting at elections for the more numerous House of the Parliament of the State, then, in reckoning the number of the people of the State or of the Commonwealth, persons of that race resident in that State shall not be counted.
In other words, a State can, under the Constitution, disqualify an entire race from voting, and the members of that race will not be included in the quota for representation of that State in the Commonwealth parliament.

You only have to read the Constitution to realise how deeply racist it remains. This represents important unfinished business for Australia.

Our Constitution is the founding document of our nation. Some of its contents may be symbolic, but it is no less important as a cornerstone of our polity for that: symbols matter. Much of its contents have real practical consequences.

We, the community governed by the Constitution, have the right to change it so that it reflects our values. It can be amended by a majority of voters in a majority of States.

In thinking about our Constitution, it is good to consider the type of Australia we want to see in the future.

It is imperative that Australia becomes a republic, so that we are, at least in our forms of government, independent from other nations. It makes no sense to have our head of state a person from a foreign country who attains that office by inheritance.

Pressing though a republic is, it ought not to be accomplished without a just settlement with the First Australians. That must have priority.

After a lengthy and consultative process, the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples have spoken.

In their Uluru Statement from the Heart, the outcome of the 2017 National Constitutional Convention, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples make a simple request that all Australians should endorse:

We seek constitutional reforms to empower our people and take a rightful place in our own country. When we have power over our destiny our children will flourish. They will walk in two worlds and their culture will be a gift to their country.

We call for the establishment of a First Nations Voice enshrined in the Constitution.

Makarrata is the culmination of our agenda: the coming together after a struggle. It captures our aspirations for a fair and truthful relationship with the people of Australia and a better future for our children based on justice and self-determination.

We seek a Makarrata Commission to supervise a process of agreement-making between governments and First Nations and truth-telling about our history.

In 1967 we were counted, in 2017 we seek to be heard. We leave base camp and start our trek across this vast country. We invite you to walk with us in a movement of the Australian people for a better future.

The Prime Minister of Australia, Malcolm Turnbull, after cabinet consideration of the Uluru Statement, dismissed it with the words:

The government does not believe such an addition to our national representative institutions is either desirable or capable of winning acceptance in a referendum.

He said that the voice to Parliament ‘would inevitably become seen as a third chamber of parliament’ – but provided no justification for the assertion. It is plainly wrong.

Ironically, in the light of s 25 of the Constitution, quoted above, and which allows the exclusion of entire races from voting, he said:

Our democracy is built on the foundation of all Australian citizens having equal civic rights … a constitutionally enshrined additional representative assembly for which only Indigenous Australians could vote for or serve in is inconsistent with this fundamental principle.

Yet another attempt to build reconciliation between First Australians and those of us who have come after has been cast aside with casual contempt.

Our Constitution badly needs an overhaul. The implementation of the Uluru Statement should be the first priority.

Sunday, 25 February 2018

A Violent Joke

George Christensen's post

Last week, George Christensen posted on Facebook a photograph of himself aiming a pistol, with the caption 'You gotta ask yourself, do you feel lucky, greenie punks?'

It was the day after a school massacre in Florida.

Christensen is the LNP MP for Dawson, in Queensland. He caucuses with the National Party.

The Prime Minister described Christensen's post as 'very inappropriate'.

Christensen refused to apologise, describing the post as a 'joke'. It is not so clear that was the original intention.

He edited the caption to read 'You gotta ask yourself, do you have a sense of humour, greenie punks?' A short time later he deleted the post.

The post was referred to police. Queensland police quickly announced they would take no action. At the time of writing, the AFP are still considering the matter.

Following Christensen's post, Greens Senator Sarah Hanson-Young received an email, with the subject 'bullets' that read: 'Hopefully George has one left in the chamber to fire directly into your vagina you hysterical fucking cunt'.

Christensen's post is no joke.

Christensen's gun-pointing threat to 'greenie punks' comes in a context. There has been sustained and serious violence against Greens and environmental protesters over many years. Most has been perpetrated by the very people to whom Christensen appeals for votes.

In March 1986, during the protests against the Farmhouse Creek logging in Tasmania, Bob Brown was walking down a bush road with conservationist Judy Richter and journalist Hugh Maclean. Shots rang out, evidently aimed at Bob. Maclean, with his Vietnam training, immediately dropped to the mud, leaving the other two standing in shock. Later the shooter was arrested. He was charged with discharging a firearm on a Sunday and fined $200.

Bob Brown manhandled by loggers at Farmhouse Creek in 1986. Later he was shot at.

In January 1990 I was present in a conservationists' camp when two shots were fired in the bush close by. The perpetrator made off. Police in Orbost refused even to take a statement.

In 1991 two cars belonging to conservationists were destroyed by gelignite in the East Picton forest of Tasmania.

In the late 1990s an attempt was made to sabotage the aircraft of Vince Jones, the jazz singer. He lived near Buchan, and was vocal about logging. Steel wool was cut up and deposited in his light aircraft's fuel tank.

In December 1998 Adrian Whitehead was assaulted with an axe handle by a logger. He had been conducting a botanical survey at the time. Despite having an independent witness, the police refused to lay charges.

Adrian Whitehead after being bashed by a logger

After midnight on 3 December 1998 a group of loggers smashed up a campsite of conservationists in the Otways, yelled threats, and drove a vehicle into a tent occupied by two female conservationists who feared for their lives. One logger was subsequently charged and convicted in relation to this incident.

In December 1998 Peter Stienke (“Fisherman Pete”) was by himself minding a conservationists’ camp at Goolengook over Christmas. His car was found at the camp with the door open and food and drinks on the passenger seat. Despite a search by police, Fisherman Pete was never found and is missing, presumed dead. He left a 14 year old son.

On 20 February 2000, some 40 to 50 loggers - some with their children - converged from Orbost and Bombala on a conservationists’ camp in the forest of East Gippsland. They trashed the camp and beat up a Canadian tourist who was there. A carload of conservationists drove up. The conservationists were violently attacked and the car reduced to a wreck. The loggers caused severe injuries to two persons, and threatened to rape the women present.

Much of this was recorded on audio, and it makes chilling listening. The out of control ranting of the loggers, the smashing of iron bars against machinery and people – and the futile attempts of the conservationists to calm the loggers down.

Some of the loggers were identified and later convicted.

On 2 April 2000 loggers wielding baseball bats and axe handles attacked a conservationists' camp at Middle Spur in the Otway Ranges. Police and ambulance were called. Some twenty conservationists were injured, five being hospitalised.

In October 2008 logging vigilantes firebombed two cars belonging to conservationists that were parked on the Strathgordon Road in the Upper Florentine Valley.

There is nothing funny about George Christensen's gunwielding antics against Greenies. Exhortations to violence – whether against greenies, blacks, women, Jews, gays, or any other group in society – are shameful. 'Jokes' like this give licence to those who are inclined to resort to violence, and there are too many of those already.

Political appeals based on violence have a way of spiralling into enormous harm. I can only hope Christensen's gun-toting example will not lead to further violence against conservationists. 

I very much fear it will.

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