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A perceived snub to Lee Rhiannon has sparked a fresh storm for the Australian Greens. By Sophie Morris.

NSW Greens see red over Lee Rhiannon sidelining

When Richard Di Natale became leader of the Australian Greens four months ago, New South Wales senator Lee Rhiannon publicly complained that the changeover was too quick and lacked transparency.

Now, the party has decided that in future leadership changes the ballot must be announced a full day before it is conducted to give those in the party room time to consider their options.

But a bigger storm is brewing, with the NSW Greens considering withdrawing more than $100,000 in campaign funding in protest at the removal of Rhiannon from the higher education portfolio.

The portfolio was given to new South Australian senator Robert Simms in the recent reshuffle, leaving Rhiannon with responsibility for democracy and local government, animal welfare and international aid and development, but no cabinet-level role. 

The federal party room convened an urgent phone hook-up on Thursday but failed to resolve the standoff.

“I don’t know what the NSW Greens are planning to do,” Di Natale said before that meeting, of the prospect they could withdraw funds. “I don’t think it would be helpful, but ultimately it’s a matter for them.”

Di Natale said it was a routine reshuffle and there was a “very talented team, with limited portfolios to go around”. Nevertheless, Rhiannon’s backers are furious, arguing it will make it hard for her to retain her senate spot.

NSW Greens convenor Hall Greenland said the state’s election campaign committee, as well as state MPs, had unanimously called for Rhiannon to be reinstated as the party’s higher education spokeswoman.

“Removing responsibility from a successful and well-respected portfolio holder coming up to an election where higher education will be a high-profile issue just doesn’t seem like a good call,” he said.

“As for funding, in the absence of a cabinet-level portfolio, there is clearly a need to review funding allocations to maintain the high profile of the Greens NSW in the federal sphere.”

He said the reshuffle had been a shock to the NSW Greens, as the state party decides portfolios collectively by consensus. “It’s rather different in the federal party room,” said Greenland. “That needs to change.”

Greens national co-convenor Penny Allman-Payne, from Queensland, said there were clearly people who were upset about the reshuffle. “I would only say that we work best as a national organisation and that this is an issue that is being worked through at the national council level,” she said.

Di Natale secured the leadership on May 6, roughly two hours after Christine Milne announced her resignation. 

At the time, Rhiannon warned that if processes were not transparent, “we could run the risk of people concluding, fairly or otherwise, that some MPs have got together to engineer the outcomes that they want”.

At a recent two-day retreat in the Melbourne suburb of Brunswick, the Greens party room resolved to rewrite the rules for leadership changes.

“We decided we want 24 hours to lapse between declaration of the ballot and conducting of the ballot,” said Di Natale. “Previously, the party rules were silent on that and the precedent was it was done at the same time.”

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Sep 26, 2015 as "NSW Greens see red". Subscribe here.

Sophie Morris
is The Saturday Paper’s chief political correspondent.