Left wing Green scores upset victory in NSW preselection contest

Running an explicitly left wing campaign, Greens MLC David Shoebridge has won preselection for the top spot on the Greens upper house ticket for the 2019 NSW state election.

 With 65 percent turnout of 4,000 NSW Greens members, Shoebridge received 1,161 votes, ahead of two sitting MLCs from the right wing of the party – Jeremy Buckingham with 780 votes and Dawn Walker with 335. 

The other candidate from the left, Abigail Boyd, received 283 votes. Because Greens rules require that the top two positions cannot both be men, after distribution of preferences, Boyd was placed second, ahead of Buckingham. 

This is a significant victory. For the past two years, the left in NSW has been defeated in every preselection ballot. More importantly, unlike those losing campaigns, Shoebridge has won by running an explicitly political and unashamedly left wing campaign. 

The previous preselection contests revealed many weaknesses of the left: an unwillingness to confront the right politically and, at worst, running campaigns almost indistinguishable from the right.

Shoebridge’s campaign released a “Greens Manifesto” that outlined radical social democratic reforms and defended political activism. It took up the slogan of the left wing leader of the British Labour Party, Jeremy Corbyn, “For the many, not the few”. 

This appeal to radicalism and to activism had a galvanising effect that previous preselection campaigns, with their anodyne appeals to common values and the NSW Greens’ unique constitution and rules, did not.

Shoebridge’s main rival, Buckingham, is the embodiment of the Greens’ long term political moderation. Buckingham and federal leader Richard Di Natale view the NSW left as a block, perhaps the last obstacle, to the total professionalisation of the party. 

Unlike the left, the right has played hard ball for years. It has used the corporate media against the NSW left since the days when Bob Brown was leader and attacked Marrickville Greens councillors for supporting the pro-Palestine BDS (boycott, divestment and sanctions) campaign against Israel in 2011.

In Buckingham’s preselection campaign video, the attack on left wing politics comes in the seemingly reasonable guise of statements such as, “I want to be part of a successful election team that can communicate and appeal to a broad audience … we have to reach more than just the converted”. 

In a Facebook post two days before voting ended, Buckingham listed among “key ingredients for a successful NSW Greens” avoiding “formalised factions such as Left Renewal”. The Left Renewal faction, launched on social media in 2016, never got off the ground. But the right used its supposed existence to attack left wing ideas while denying their own right wing factionalising. 

While the victory for Shoebridge has halted the series of preselection defeats for the NSW left, the NSW right has by no means disappeared. It claimed victory in the preselection for an upper house casual vacancy at the same time as Shoebridge won in the upper house ticket preselection. 

Previously a Greens MLC from 2011 to 2013, Cate Faehrmann has spent the last few years as the chief of staff to Di Natale. She quit that position in March to contest the preselection to replace Mehreen Faruqi – a vacancy created when Faruqi defeated Lee Rhiannon for the number one spot on the ticket for the federal Senate.

Despite Faehrmann being associated with the right, her vote was slightly higher than Shoebridge’s – 1181. The same number of voters, and often the same people, voted for both Shoebridge and Faehrmann. 

The lesson? Years of fudging the political differences between left and right cannot be overcome by a single left wing campaign.

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Correction: This article originally, and erroneously, claimed that the NSW right won preselection for a lower house vacancy.