POLITICS

The Greens Are Being Torn Apart Over A School Funding Fight

Senator Lee Rhiannon could be in a lot of trouble.

26/06/2017 11:00 AM AEST | Updated 26/06/2017 11:17 AM AEST

Amid the internal power struggles which have cleaved apart the Labor and Liberal parties in recent years -- Rudd vs Gillard, rounds one and two, then Abbott vs Turnbull, and today the ever-present whisperings of Shorten vs Albanese, and Turnbull vs Abbott again -- the Greens party has emerged looking relatively unscathed and united.

That illusion has been shattered in the wake of the Gonski school funding debate, with NSW Senator Lee Rhiannon being publicly called out by the entire rest of the Greens federal caucus -- and potentially facing expulsion from the party room -- over her controversial stance on the government's education package.

The support of the Greens was being courted by the Government as it tried to stitch together Senate support for its schools package. In the end, indecision and division inside the Greens led to the party ultimately opposing the Gonski reforms, despite the Government agreeing to their key demands including billions in extra funding, but the package eventually passed with the support of crossbenchers.

However, as the internal debate raged as to whether the Greens would support it, flyers criticising the Government's plan -- and bearing the authorisation of Rhiannon -- began appearing in letterboxes across Sydney.

Greens sources told Fairfax Media that such a move from Rhiannon "breached the faith of the party". The other nine parliamentary members of the Greens, eight senators and MP Adam Bandt, co-signed a letter to the party's national council slamming the NSW senator, saying they were "disappointed" and "astounded" at her actions.

The media reports forced Rhiannon into a public defence of her actions, denying that she derailed the negotiations or breached the party's faith.

"At all times my actions on education have been faithful to Greens policy and process. My work did not impact on the Greens negotiations with the Government," she wrote in a long Facebook post on Sunday.

"It was the Turnbull government's decision to do a deal with the crossbench senators that killed off negotiations with the Greens. I had no role in that.

"The leaflets about the bill that I authorised were a good initiative of Greens local groups. They highlighted the negative impact the Turnbull funding plan would have on their local public schools."

In their letter, the other Greens members said they would "consider what further action should be taken" against Rhiannon, and on Monday, former party leader Bob Brown said her actions could see her face strict disciplining including expulsion from the party room and even losing her membership to the Greens.

"You can't have a party leader and spokesman working hard to get a good outcome while another person in the party room with shadow ministry functions is out undermining," Brown told The Guardian.

"I wouldn't be advising on what the party room should do. They are closer to the issue, but we put this rule in as a reasonable backstop to very bad behaviour... It is really up to party, but I am pleased there is an option there for dealing with Lee."

Rhiannon has not publicly responded to Brown's comments, as of publication time, but several of her NSW state colleagues have defended her actions, as well as Left Renewal, a left-wing faction inside the Greens.

Left Renewal, which attracted controversy upon launching inside the Greens party which formally opposed factions, is aligned strongly to Rhiannon, seen as the most radical of the party's federal parliamentarians.

"We are deeply disappointed with the Australian Greens Party Room's treatment of Lee Rhiannon over the past few days," Left Renewal said in its Facebook post.

"Left Renewal are shocked that this situation has dissolved down to an issue of leaflets that were distributed across a couple of electorates. These leaflets opposed the original so called 'Gonski 2.0' which not even the federal Greens Party Room supported. This is hardly an issue to expel an MP over.

"We are disappointed in the party room's eagerness to cruelly and publicly undermine NSW's Greens Senator for simply taking the position of her party, and a policy the Greens took to an election, into parliament. We take this as an attack on the membership of the Greens NSW."

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