Sunday, 27 March 2022

Patriarchy, colonialism, inequity and sustainability

 I’ve been feeling very flat for a few days (hopefully not Covid) so having a very quiet time and came back to this blog that I’ve neglected over the last few years. I’m planning to retire from teaching about climate change and health fairly soon, although I may go on doing voluntary work (I’ve given two voluntary talks so far this year), but before I do I’d like to publish an article on the relationship between patriarchy, colonialism, inequity and sustainability (or ecological breakdown more logically - that is, those factors are causative of ecological breakdown and we need to get rid of them to achieve sustainability).

I wrote a plain language version of my article about ‘economism’, which partially covered some of these issues, for The Conversation last year. However they decided not to publish it, which threw me a bit more than it probably should have. I might publish the draft plain language version here separately. The frustrating thing was they suggested it wasn’t topical or relevant, whereas it’s really relevant particularly now with an election due. Anyway I’ll leave that for a separate post.

The main unfinished business arising from my PhD studies is this relationship between patriarchy and the other factors named above. Of course there has been a lot of ecofeminist scholarship in this area but it seems to have dropped off and been largely ignored or forgotten in mainstream discourse. I’d like to do a really plain language explanatory article on this, but publish it in a high level journal to get some coverage.

At present I think patriarchy is an ‘elephant in the room’ or ‘fish don’t see water’ phenomenon - people don’t see it because it’s so ordinary, and it also has been somewhat successful in absorbing women/feminism into patriarchal structures and systems without fundamentally changing them.

The relationship between patriarchy, colonialism, inequity and ecological breakdown (which may not be the term I’ll eventually settle on but will do for now) is in broad terms:

- By patriarchy I refer to ‘pyramid’ type social systems and structures in which those at the ‘top’ have both more power and more wealth/control of resources, and in which men dominate the ‘top’ positions. (It’s important to note that these can to some extent be held by female spouses and relatives of men also, which is an ancient feature of patriarchy).

- patriarchy appears to be (particularly according to Gerda Lerner if my memory is correct) the oldest and original form of systemic inequality with these features. In previous societies it seems there may have been inequalities of power, but they weren’t systematically accompanied by inequalities of wealth and resources. For example in First Nations of current day Australia (which is where I’ll locate some of my discussion since it’s the country I know most about), there may have been some forms of patriarchal power but it seems  generally agreed by early observers that resources were distributed according to need.

- patriarchy in the sense I’m using it is not timeless but appears to have begun several thousand years ago in areas of Middle East/Southern Europe. This possibly may have been related to invasions of what was a fertile area of people from less fertile areas? (Need to look at this question more closely)

- in these areas at least it seems to be pretty clearly linked to changes in religious belief and cultural myths, particularly to the rise of monotheistic religions centred on a male god.

- patriarchy is the basic systemic form of inequality - the belief or acceptance that it is right for certain people to have not just more power but also more wealth and resources/control of resources than others. It has also never been simply been about men having power over women but also about hierarchies amongst men, these two aspects are integrally linked. All men might be ‘heads of the family’ in patriarchal ideology but they were never all equal, they always competed and formed hierarchies

Gerda Lerner suggests the successful dominance of women set the pattern for dominance of groups of men which colonialism and racism are based on - that is, successful groups of men didn’t just destroy their male opponents but learned how to enslave or subordinate them systemically (leading to systems of slavery and colonialism).

The idea that certain men could hold power of resources underlies enclosures of the commons, mercantile households, and capitalism. They all rely on systems of inequality and couldn’t exist if the systemic idea of inequality wasn’t socially legitimised.

Control and enclosure of common land (which was common for socially defined groups of people not for everyone) underlies systemic and large scale land/ecological degradation (? Need some more analysis and info here)

- development of fossil fuelled industry then added climate change and greatly hastened this process.

- (incidentally the ideological rationale for this now is ‘productivity’ which basically seems to be the assumption that anything that saves human expenditure of energy is good - which from a public health point of view is wrong and should be critically opposed although it might be a bit tangential here)

Taking a break here but these are developing lines of argument to be further refined.

Monday, 8 November 2021

Submission to the Victorian Greens regarding treatment of women in the party

Edited 5 May 2022. The introduction below was written in November 2021. Since then I have been able to talk to one Greens MP (without making any progress) and another person has agreed to talk to me after the federal election (21May). I am hopeful that with this person there is more hope of progress, so have not entirely given up hope, in spite of the statements below.


(Introduction originally written 8 November 2021)

This is a copy of a submission to the Victorian Greens that I first made in May 2021. I have unfortunately given up hope that I will get a respectful response.

It is very sad that in spite of all the protests about poor treatment of women in politics, the Victorian Greens are still unable to talk about problems in their own party. I really don't understand why they are like this.

I, and other women, have been deeply hurt by the way we have been treated by the Victorian Greens. The party's own values, or even simple humanity and kindness, might suggest they could acknowledge this and try to do something about it. Sadly, that does not seem to be the case.

Submission to the Victorian Greens regarding treatment of women in the party

(First submitted 17 May 2021, resubmitted 9 September 2021, resubmitted with correction 20 September 2021)

From: Valerie Kay

To: The Victorian Greens State Council

CC           Samantha Ratnam

                Adam Bandt

Tim Read (as of 20 September 2021)

Dear Victorian Greens

Following previous discussions with office-bearers in the Victorian Greens in recent years, I am making a formal submission regarding the treatment of women in the party. I make this submission as a citizen and community member, as an academic working on climate change and public health, and as a former member and office bearer in the Victorian Greens.

The context of this submission is that we face an environmental and climate crisis and are seeing worsening inequality, but in Australia we have a federal government that is unfit to deal with this situation. The current Morrison government still reflects the values of the white supremacist, hierarchical, patriarchal and exploitative social order that stole this land from First Peoples over 230 years ago.

While individual members of federal parliament, such as Lidia Thorpe, represent an alternative to this, there is no clear alternative at party level. All major parties, including the Greens, currently conform to the norm of a hierarchical organization led by a white man.

In Victoria, although the state party is currently led by a woman, the Greens have shown a lack of fairness and accountability in the way they have treated women. Numerous women (of whom I am one) have been effectively forced out of the Greens, and the party has failed to acknowledge this problem or respond to it.

The most well-known case is that of Alex Bhathal, former candidate for the federal seat of Batman (now Cooper).[i] [ii] [iii] The way this situation was handled by the party led to the resignation of many members and was the likely cause of a significant decline in support for the Greens in the following state and federal elections. Several women who have held significant positions left the party, citing concerns over party internal procedures.[iv] [v] [vi] [vii]

I am aware that men have also been affected by the problem of poor internal processes within the Greens, and that men have also resigned from the party over this. However, it appears those most prominently affected have been women. Women who have spoken out publicly about poor processes in the Victorian Greens include two former Members of the Legislative Council in Victoria (Samantha Dunn and Nina Springle), a former political adviser for the Victorian Greens (Liz Ingham), and a former office bearer and local Councillor (Lynette Keleher). To have these women, representing such a weight of experience in the party, speaking out publicly, should be of great concern. Undoubtedly there are many more, both men and women, who are concerned about the issues. Yet there is no apparent evidence that the party takes these concerns seriously.

The Victorian Greens ought to be a major area of strength for the party in Australia, but lost support in recent elections, while Greens parties around the world have been improving their position. There is no sign of the Greens party leadership taking responsibility for this.

Please note my criticisms are not directed towards Adam Bandt personally. I believe he is a good politician and holds good values. But goodwill alone is not enough. The federal and Victorian Greens must own the way women have been treated and deal with it openly. Women who have left the Victorian Greens may not come back. But the party must acknowledge their feelings and the hurt and harm that has been done and do whatever it can to make up for this.

The Greens have now preselected Celeste Liddle for the seat of Cooper (formerly Batman). This is a significant achievement, to have another Indigenous woman with an impressive track record standing for the House of Representatives, in addition to Lidia Thorpe in the Senate. However, it does not in itself make up for the way Alex Bhathal was treated. It would be unethical for the Greens to act as if women are disposable, as if the party can forget the damage done to one woman when another woman (no matter how good) is pre-selected. Having another great candidate makes it even more important to acknowledge the previous candidate who was so deeply hurt by the actions of a few members and the party leadership. It would be a great time to heal wounds in the party and begin to repair the damage done.

In this submission, although it concerns the way women have been treated, I am not attempting to speak on behalf of other women. I am speaking for myself. However, my research has explored how the treatment of women, and the global crises we are facing, are related, through the history of patriarchal social organisation. I believe this understanding may be helpful in clarifying what has happened in the Victorian Greens and how it may be resolved.

Crises of environment, climate and inequality are interlinked and result from the kind of patriarchal, imperialist, white supremacist and exploitative social order that was established in Australia following the British invasion. I have recently published, with my co-author Charles Livingstone, an article on political discourse in Australia.[viii] This includes analysis of the dominant ‘economistic’ discourse and how it is used to maintain power in Australia. The economistic discourse expresses the traditional values of white supremacist patriarchy, as exemplified by Scott Morrison.

In contrast, we identified an alternative discourse at local community level, of ‘socio-ecological’ or ‘ecosocial’ care. This discourse is similar to values the Greens have expressed since their beginning, of the need to care for both people and ecosystems. I would be interested in talking to the party about this discourse and how the party might offer it as a more convincing alternative to the current destructive economistic discourse. However, I would not do so in circumstances where I and other women have been deliberately excluded from the party.

I submit that if the Greens wish to represent an alternative to the exploitative patriarchal order in Australia – to provide real, grassroots leadership, for an effective national response to the crises of our times – they need to make significant changes. At national level, this would probably involve having a female leader, or at least joint male and female leadership, not as leaders of a hierarchical organization but as coordinators and facilitators of a truly democratic party. At the Victorian Greens level, it needs to involve a genuine and heartfelt apology to the women who have left the party, an acknowledgement of the patriarchal and misogynist influences within the party that contributed to this happening, and processes to ensure it does not happen again.

Detailed submission

A more detailed discussion and analysis of my own experiences and the reported experiences of other women who have left or been forced out of the Victorian party is below, showing how they reflect problems of patriarchy, hierarchy, misogyny and an overall lack of transparency and accountability in the party.

I left the party in 2004, due to concern about party processes. This followed my unsuccessful attempts, as then convenor of the Victorian Greens Women’s Network, to ensure female administrative staff were fairly treated during a restructure in the Greens office. Some years later, when I applied to rejoin, I found that internal processes in the local Branch were being used against me by anonymous members to ensure I could not be readmitted. Their complaints about me were never revealed to me and there was no opportunity for peaceful resolution, even though this is meant to be a key principle of the Greens. At the time, I spoke to the local media about this as I was concerned by the poor process and lack of accountability.

A few years later I re-applied for membership of the Greens and was refused again. This time, however, I was able to hold discussions with office bearers in the branch. I found that although they showed understanding of my position and suggested I could engage with the party as a supporter or ‘friend’, particularly in policy development, the fact that I had previously spoken to the media was seen as a mark against me.

Similarly, when Alex Bhathal was unable to have her concerns satisfactorily resolved within the party, she spoke to the media. In both cases this was held against us. In summary, we were not able to have problems effectively addressed within the party, but when we raised concerns publicly, this was held against us. This is of great concern as it suggests a lack of democratic accountability and a practice in the party of punishing whistleblowers.

Lack of acknowledgement or action by the party

Although there have been several reviews, of the Batman campaign and of following elections,[ix][x] there appears to have been no acknowledgement of the number of women who have left the party and spoken publicly about their concerns.[xi][xii]  In relation to Alex Bhathal, in particular, it appears the party was more focused on censuring her than it was on identifying or censuring those who anonymously attacked her, undermined her campaign, leaked confidential documents to hostile media, and seriously damaged the campaign and the party. The author Paddy Manning, in his book Inside the Greens, writes:

Bhathal was surely but slowly forced out of the party for talking to the media, unlike those who sabotaged the Batman campaign.[xiii]

This occurred even though it is known within the party who organized the ‘dossier’ of complaints against Alex Bhathal, and there are grounds for suspicion about who may have leaked the material to hostile media.[xiv] [xv] This is an extraordinary position for any political party to be in, let alone one that purports to stand for fairness, social justice, accountability and democracy.

Conflict with male authority and hierarchy

A common theme, in Alex Bhathal’s, Liz Ingham’s and my case, is that we had come into conflict with men in the party. In my case, the then convenor Adrian Whitehead felt I was wrongfully opposing his authority.

In Liz Ingham’s case, she made claims of misogyny and bullying against a sitting member, Greg Barber. Even though she was awarded a payout, Greg Barber has repeatedly denied her claims. Liz Ingham reported that officials of the Victorian Greens had tried to dissuade her from making a complaint and suggested there would be retribution against her for doing so.[xvi] It seems extraordinary that at a time when even Hollywood was finally learning to “believe women”,[xvii] the Victorian Greens were still trying to silence women and say that they would not be believed.

In Alex Bhathal’s case, Trent McCarthy appears to have borne animosity towards her because she supported Lidia Thorpe for the preselection for the state seat of Northcote.[xviii]

An associated factor is that we came into conflict with hierarchical authority in the party. In my case, I was in conflict with the party convenor, and part of my concern was that he was trying to make the party administrative structures more hierarchical. In Liz Ingham’s case, she was in conflict with a man who was an elected Greens MP and her ‘boss’. In Alex Bhathal’s case, she was known to have a record of opposing hierarchical concentration of authority in the party and had come into conflict with party officials over this previously.

Hierarchical ‘pyramid’ forms of organisation, where power and income increase ‘up’ the pyramid, are not neutral forms of social arrangements, but historically derive from patriarchal forms of authority, of which the ‘kingdom’ can be seen as the archetype. They have a ‘leader’ or ‘boss’, with subordinates ranked in decreasing order of power, and the majority of people (employees, members, the general population) at or near the bottom of the pyramid. This is still the most common form of work organization in Australia and one which many people regard as ‘normal’.

People may struggle with more democratic and flatter forms of organization because they have been brought up in a society where these are not the norm. Women who oppose hierarchical authority (whether exercised by a man or woman) are at particular risk of being seen as ‘difficult’ or ‘troublemakers’, because they are opposing a patriarchal norm.

Victim blaming

Following the problems in recent years, the Victorian Greens, particularly through the leader Samantha Ratnam, have promised party reform. However there appears to be no evidence of this, and there never appears to have been an apology to any of the women concerned from the party.

In Alex Bhathal’s case, and mine, there appears to have been victim blaming. The party appears to have officially endorsed this in my case by suggesting that my relationships with unspecified people had been ‘consistently fraught’. In Alex Bhathal’s case it appears to have condoned ongoing suggestions that she was ‘the problem’, by allowing repeated censure motions against her. I am also aware of individual Greens members who use victim-blaming rationales to explain why the party has not effectively dealt with the attacks on her.

Why women are blamed: understanding misogyny

Researchers who have studied violence against women have highlighted the common phenomenon of blaming women in cases of conflict between men and women.[xix] As the philosopher Kate Manne explains, this form of misogyny does not involve hatred or contempt towards all women, but rather arises from a social expectation that women should be supportive to others.[xx] Therefore, if there is conflict between a man and a woman, it is seen as the woman’s fault: in the worst case, she is seen to have provoked the man’s anger, in the more apparently neutral, she is seen to have handled the situation badly.

Kate Manne explains that this social expectation is shared by both men and women.  The feminist writer bell hooks similarly notes that women, as well as men, can be patriarchal in their values and may blame women when men are angry.[xxi]

It is apparent that while there was conflict between a man and a woman in the situations of Alex Bhathal, Liz Ingham and myself, some of the censure we faced was from women as well as men. However, even taking the least apparently ‘victim-blaming’ rationale, for example that we could have handled the situation better, there is no evidence that the men involved wanted peaceful resolution. For example, I know that Adrian Whitehead, and some of his supporters, wanted me expelled from the party for opposing him publicly.

In Liz Ingham’s and Alex Bhathal’s cases, it similarly does not appear that the men involved wanted a peaceful resolution. In Liz Ingham’s case it seems Greg Barber and his supporters wanted denial and silence. In Alex Bhathal’s case, the people associated with Trent McCarthy in the complaint against her wanted her expelled, and when they could not get that, at least some of them wanted her publicly shamed. If the response of a man who experiences opposition from a woman, and of his supporters, is to call for silencing, expulsion or shaming of the woman concerned, that is clearly not about peaceful conflict resolution.

Moreover, it sends a message to other women. The labelling of women in these cases as difficult, or disloyal if they talk about these issues outside the party, sends a message to other women that if they upset anyone, they can be subject to victim blaming, and the party will do nothing to support them. Thus, women are effectively told that they can be accepted in the political sphere as long as they don’t upset men or challenge patriarchal norms. How can real change in politics happen if women are given such messages? It is similar to Scott Morrison’s statement that women should “rise” but not at the expense of “others”.[xxii]

Undoubtedly there were attempts by Labor to use the problems in the Victorian Greens for political purposes, which led Samantha Ratnam to accuse Labor of dirty “smear” politics, but this also looked like an attempt to cover up real problems.[xxiii] [xxiv]  Overall, the way that the party responded to Alex Bhathal’s case, in particular, appears to have contributed to women leaving the party, and to voters, particularly women, deciding not to support the Greens.

Why ‘careerism’ is not the whole explanation

How have these problems arisen in a party which has a good track record in getting women elected to Parliament? Lee Rhiannon, in a Q and A session (14 May 2020) following the online screening of the film ‘The Candidate’,[xxv] suggested it is due to increasing ‘careerism’ within the Greens. Statements by other Greens members in the media suggest this is a popular explanation.[xxvi]

In this view, as I understand it, the Greens are believed to have been committed to inclusion and grass-roots democracy, but the increasing political success of the party in the early 2000s led to people being attracted to the Greens who were not committed to these values but were seeking political careers. Such ‘careerists’ were prepared to use methods such as creating factions for personal advancement, and leaking ‘dirt’ on others, to advance their own careers and get rid of potential rivals.

While I respect the experience and knowledge of those advancing this position, and believe that it partly explains the problems, I suggest that there is more to it than this. I suggest it is related to traditional, often unconscious, understandings of politics in a society which has historically been, since the British invasion of Australia, predominantly a white supremacist, hierarchical patriarchy.[1]

White men, particularly ruling class or educated men, were seen in this society as the people who had a right to own and control land and property, and profit from the low paid or unpaid work of others. This was supported not only by established patriarchal tradition in Britain and Europe, but also by the more recent enlightenment ideas of science and rationality,[xxvii] [xxviii] which saw white men as fitted to dispossess Indigenous peoples because they could ‘improve’ the land through rational land management practices, even though their impact in reality was environmentally destructive.

Adult white men were seen in this society as natural ‘heads of households’ and natural leaders in organisations and politics. Much of the law underlying this patriarchal system has been dismantled from the late 19th century onwards, but cultural practice lingers much longer, particularly in the hierarchical organization of most institutions, where those ‘higher up’ have more power and wealth, and the highest positions are disproportionately likely to be occupied by white men.

Another aspect of this patriarchal society was that the public world was seen as the sphere of competition and conflict, where ‘rationality’ was supposed to govern conduct, but where ‘toughness’, aggression, anger and violence could also be positively valued (for example in war, but also in political competition). Qualities such as kindness and care for others were seen as belonging to the ‘private’ sphere of homes, the domain of women. Caring for others, and keeping loving homes for families, was seen as women’s responsibility.

Again, while these are no longer formally endorsed positions, there are still many people who see politics as a ‘tough’ area, where people are not expected to care actively for the wellbeing of others. Gendered understandings of politics can continue at an unconscious level, even when people think they are being objective or gender neutral.

What is fairness in politics?

People may think that ‘fairness’ in politics consists of achieving equal numerical representation, rather than changing the structures and processes. The limitation of such thinking is apparent in terms of First People’s representation. Indigenous peoples were almost destroyed by White Australia, before their numbers began to increase slowly in the early 20th century. To think that fairness can be achieved by electing a tiny number of Indigenous representatives in a culturally White parliament is clearly unreasonable, even if numerically representative. Much more profound change is needed, as set out in the Uluru Statement from the Heart.

Achieving a fair deal for women likewise is not only about numerical representation of women in an institution designed by and for men. If parliaments are to be truly equal for women, they need to change.  At the most basic level, this has been illustrated by women bringing their breastfed babies into the Chamber, as Senator Larissa Waters has done. More broadly, the concept of Parliament, and public life in general, as an area of competition between men, from which they can seek refuge in the domestic sphere, can no longer apply.

Women still do most of the paid and unpaid caring work in society, as Covid19 has highlighted, but a progressive political party should be working to introduce an ethic of care in public life, including parliaments and political parties. The movement of women, Indigenous people and people of colour into politics should not simply leave the institutions unchanged, because what would be the point?

Recent events in Australia have highlighted how much politics in this country is still a ‘boy’s club’ and how damaging this is for women. Thousands of women have shown that they have had enough, through the Women’s March for Justice in March 2021.  If the Greens are to participate in and support this movement, it is imperative to be a party that is inclusive of all women, not a party that excludes women who are seen as ‘difficult’.

Rightwing patriarchal backlash and division in global politics

Globally, we have seen in recent decades a rise of right-wing parties led by conservative patriarchal figures, such as Trump (until his recent defeat), Johnson, Bolsonaro, Putin, Duterte, Modi, Hofer, Mareshki, Orbán, Wilders, Erdogan, and Morrison in Australia. [xxix] [xxx] The recent coup in Myanmar provides a frightening example of patriarchal power.

At the same time, in some countries, there has been a rise in Green parties.[xxxi] There has also been some increase in female representation in parliaments, and an increase in female leaders, including relatively young women, for example in some Scandinavian countries and New Zealand, even though globally women are still a small minority of government leaders.[xxxii]

In this sense there appears to be an increasing division occurring in politics. Female leaders and former leaders have warned that, although there has been some increase in female representation and leadership, we are at a dangerous time due to the rise of “strongman” politics, where the gains of women are at risk of being lost.[xxxiii]  If women are to resist and replace these patriarchal, militaristic societies that are destructive to human life, ecosystems and other species, we cannot allow ourselves to be divided into ‘good’ compliant women and ‘bad’ troublemaking women.[xxxiv] [xxxv]

In Australia, women’s representation in federal Parliament has increased slowly in recent years, currently being about 35%. However, women’s representation in leadership roles has recently gone backwards, with no women currently in leadership roles in the ALP, the Liberals or the Nationals. The Greens have Larissa Waters in a co-deputy leader role, but both the present and former leader are men. This contrasts with the earlier period when the Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, and the Greens leader, Christine Milne, were both women, and even the Liberals had a female deputy leader, Julie Bishop.

The sexist treatment Julia Gillard received is well-known, but Christine Milne also was subjected to gendered criticism and sexism during her career. It appears that since then, rather than presenting a clear alternative to right wing populism and patriarchal ‘father figures’, the supposedly progressive parties, Labor and Greens, have responded by becoming somewhat more conservative themselves, including by choosing male leaders.

In Victoria in the 2019 federal election all but one of the five candidates for potentially winnable or high-profile seats were men. I am not suggesting that this is a result of ‘conspiracy’. As the historian Judith Bennett puts it, patriarchy is not a conspiracy led by “a committee of white-haired men”[xxxvi] but rather flexible processes by which, for example, it may simply seem that men are the best candidates, or that women are not ‘choosing’ to stand. Women may in reality be deterred by seeing other women subjected to relentless personal attacks, as Alex Bhathal was. There is evidence that some young women were deterred from entering politics by the way Julia Gillard was treated.[xxxvii]

If women are leaving the Greens or are reluctant to stand for candidate selection or leadership positions, it may appear simply as ‘natural’ that candidates for winnable seats are predominantly men. Women who raise concerns may then be stereotyped as difficult or anti-men.




Lack of transparency and accountability allows Greens processes to be weaponized against women

Greens processes have been used to exclude women from the party. In a general sense this may be summarized, as Samantha Dunn and Lee Rhiannon have put it, as processes that are meant to resolve dispute being ‘weaponised’.

For example in my case, some members of Moreland Branch argued against me being readmitted as a member, on grounds that were not revealed to me, and against which I was given no opportunity to defend myself, or to talk about positive things I had done for the party. I do not know what they said, but it is the case that anonymous members of the Moreland branch provided information about me to the local Leader newspaper that was false. The Leader subsequently gave me an opportunity to rebut this, but it raises the possibility that these members may also have made false statements about me to the local Branch, under the cloak of secrecy.

These members were using processes of the Greens that are meant to support consensus and prevent crude injustices of ‘majority rule’. They are not meant to be ‘weaponised’ by allowing small groups to make statements about an individual, where there is no check on the truth of what they are saying and no opportunity for the person being attacked to defend herself. This is reminiscent of totalitarian states rather than democracy.

In Alex Bhathal’s case, her opponents in the Darebin Branch weaponised complaints processes that were intended for the peaceful resolution of disputes between individuals. Rather than attempting to resolve their disputes with Alex, her opponents organized a group complaint, including complaints which were trivial and insubstantial, with the apparent intent of making it seem as if there was a major problem. Party officials then seem to have compounded the situation by dismissing the complaints without any attempt to resolve the dispute on a personal level. Some members of the Branch then weaponised the process even further when they leaked the complaint to hostile media who used it to attack Alex and the party. The unsubstantiated accusations of bullying against Alex were likely particularly damaging because as a female candidate she was expected to be ‘caring’, as Kate Manne’s analysis explains.

Members and officials of the Victorian Greens have portrayed these problems as non-gendered, as simply being the kind of ‘dirty political tactics’ found in all parties, or as related to one ‘dysfunctional’ branch (Darebin).[xxxviii] This is a common form of denial, seen for example in references by journalists to ‘sex scandals’ in federal Parliament when what is actually happening is discrimination, harassment or sexual assault towards women.[xxxix] It is an attempt to deny or obscure the gendered nature of these problems. It should be impossible, however, to ignore or deny the women in the Victorian Greens who have spoken out or left the party.

What can the party do?

There appear to be limited guidelines or regulations in Australia regarding how political parties should conduct themselves to ensure fairness. In ‘older’ democracies, like Australia, such guidance was not provided under original constitutions or parliamentary practice because parties at the time were not well established and to some extent were regarded unfavourably. Newer democracies appear to have given more thought to how parties should regulate themselves to ensure procedural fairness and internal democracy both internally and at parliamentary level, and may provide useful models for the Greens.[xl]

In the case of the Greens, the fact that women are being selected and elected nationally may have obscured the fact that simultaneously other women, at least in the Victorian Greens, were being excluded. Yet, as Kate Manne suggests, these may be two sides of the same coin, giving the message that women can succeed but only if they conform to societal expectations of not upsetting anybody, especially men.

I urge the Greens to acknowledge the harm that has been done to myself and other women, and to the party, by these processes of exclusion. I urge you to set up a process for apology and resolution. I do not suggest that every woman affected would want to take part in this, but at least it would be a start. This process could assist the Victorian Greens to identify what went wrong, and how the party can become fairer and more accountable.

Finally, I will talk about the pain this has caused me personally. I am deeply committed to the values the Greens purport to represent. I worked hard for these values when I was in the party and have continued to do so since. In my professional life I have been researching and teaching about climate change and public health for years. Student evaluations of my teaching have been consistently positive.  It has been very painful to know that in spite of this work, I am stigmatised in the Victorian Greens as a trouble-maker, someone the party is better off without, someone whom people can say anything about with no recourse or regard for truth. I cannot think that this is what the party wants or stands for.

Yours sincerely


Valerie Kay


[1] In making this argument, I am drawing on my own experience in politics, both in the Greens and as a former Labor party member, researcher and adviser in the Victorian Parliament 1997-99. More particularly, however, I draw on considerable research on Australian politics and political discourse, both for my PhD thesis in public health and earlier research for an MA in Australian history.


[i] Luke Henriques-Gomez Former Greens candidate Alex Bhathal quits party, blaming 'organisational bullying'  The Guardian 1 February 2019, available at accessed 22 May 2020

[ii] Martin McKenzie-Murray ‘Alex Bhathal and discord in the Greens’ The Saturday Paper 9-15 February 2019 available at accessed 22 May 2020

[iii] Bianca Hall 'I have been loyal': Greens stalwart Alex Bhathal quits in disgust’ The Age 1 February 2019 available at accessed 22 May 2020

[iv] Stephanie Anderson ‘Former Victorian Greens MP Samantha Dunn quits over party's 'toxic' culture’ ABC News 15 March 2019 available at accessed 22 May 2020

[v] Bianca Hall 'The tail is wagging the dog': bitter Greens consider their options’ The Age 3 February 2019 available at accessed 22 May 2020

[vi] Richard Willingham ‘Nina Springle quits Victorian Greens over 'cultural issues' ABC News 9 April 2019 available at accessed 25 May 2020

[vii] Lynette Keleher ‘Victorian Greens overridden by a bullying and abusive internal culture’ Sydney Morning Herald 11 April 2018 available at accessed 25 May 2020

[viii] Kay VA & Livingstone CH. A socioecological discourse of care or an economistic discourse: which fits better with transition? ANZJPH. 2021. See also: Kay VA & Livingstone CH. Promoting environmental sustainability, equity and health in Victorian Primary Care Partnerships. Aust J Health Prom. 2019.

[ix] Paddy Manning ‘Whither the Greens? How a reckoning looms for a party fighting to hang on’ The Guardian 4 May 2019 available at accessed 25 May 2020

[x]Adam Carey  ‘Greens' election review points fingers at enemies and own goals’ The Age 29 March 2019 available at accessed 25 May 2020

[xi] Samantha Ratnam ‘Lessons and learnings from the Victorian state election’ 14 December 2018 available at accessed 25 May 2020

[xii] Caroline Schelle AAP ‘Vic Greens deny toxic party culture, again’ Canberra Times 15 March 2019 available at accessed 25 May 2020

[xiii] Paddy Manning Inside the Greens 2019 p 422

[xiv] Paddy Manning ‘Green tensions build: The Batman by-election loss cannot be swept under the carpet’ The Monthly 22 June 2018 available at accessed 25 May 2020

[xv] Research Matters ‘Facebook posts seeking justice for Alex Bhathal’ March-April 2018 available at accessed 25 May 2020

[xvi] Bianca Hall ‘ 'The tail is wagging the dog': bitter Greens consider their options’ The Age 2 February 2019 available at accessed 10 June 2020

[xvii][xvii] British Broadcasting Corporation ‘Harvey Weinstein timeline: How the scandal unfolded’ BBC News 7 April 2021. Available at accessed 17 May 2021.

[xviii] Paddy Manning ‘Green tensions build The Batman by-election loss cannot be swept under the carpet’ The Monthly 22 June 2018. Available at accessed 10 June 2020

[xix] Jess Hill See what you made me do: Power, control and domestic abuse Black Inc 2019

[xx] Kate Manne Down Girl: The logic of misogyny Penguin 2017

[xxi] bell hooks Understanding patriarchy No Borders (undated)

[xxii] Paul Karp ‘Scott Morrison wants women to rise but not solely at expense of others’ The Guardian 8 March 2019. Available at accessed 24 March 2021

[xxiii]Noel Towell, Adam Carey & Gerard Cockburn ‘Women desert Greens, Ratnam blames Labor's 'dirty smear campaign' ‘ The Age 23 November 2018. Available at accessed 22 May 2020

[xxiv] Richard Willingham ‘Greens' disastrous 2018 poll blamed on scandals, internal disputes, 'cashed-up' Labor’ ABC News 29 March 2019. Available at accessed 25 May 2020

[xxv] Helen Gaynor (Director) ‘The Candidate’ Documentary film, 2019. Available at accessed 27 May 2019.

[xxvi] Paddy Manning ‘Green tensions build The Batman by-election loss cannot be swept under the carpet’ The Monthly 22 June 2018. Available at accessed 10 June 2020

[xxvii] Carolyn Merchant. (1989). The death of nature : women, ecology, and the scientific revolution. New York: Harper & Row.

[xxviii] Nancy Folbre, (2009). Greed, lust & gender: a history of economic ideas. Oxford, England: Oxford University Press.

[xxix] Annalisa Merelli ‘The state of global right-wing populism in 2019’ Quartz 30 December 2019. Available at accessed 27 May 2020

[xxx]Ulf Mellström Editorial ‘A restoration of classic patriarchy?’ Norma: International Journal for Masculinity Studies 2017 VOL. 12, NO. 1, 1–4

[xxxi] Emma Graham-Harrison ‘A quiet revolution sweeps Europe as Greens become a political force’ The Guardian 2 June 2019. Available at accessed 27 May 2020

[xxxii] UN Women Facts and figures: Leadership and political participation (Factsheet) United Nations 2019 available at accessed 27 May 2020

[xxxiii] Kate Lyons ‘Rise of the 'strongman': Dozens of female world leaders warn women's rights being eroded’ The Guardian 28 February 2019 available at accessed 27 May 2020

[xxxiv][xxxiv] Jill Matthews Good and Mad Women: The Historical Construction of Femininity in Twentieth-Century Australia ANU 1985

[xxxv] Anne Summers Damned Whores and God’s Police First published 1975, latest edition 2016.

[xxxvi] Judith Bennett History Matters: Patriarchy and the Challenge of Feminism 2006

[xxxvii] Tory Shepherd ‘More women turning off politics after Julia Gillard was badly treated’ The Advertiser 14 July 2014 available at accessed 24 March 2021

[xxxviii] Noel Towell ‘ 'Gaslighted': Greens' fury at attempted 'takeover' of Darebin branch’ The Age 18 June 2018 available at accessed 26 March 2021

[xxxix] This can be seen for example in Paul Barry ‘Sexual politics’ ABC Media Watch 16 November 2020 available at accessed 25 March 2021. Paul Barry asks whether a “Four Corners’ expose on Ministers’ sex lives” was justified. The reporter Louise Milligan points out that there was a power imbalance between the male Ministers and female staff members involved, but Barry continues to portray the program as being about “sex scandals”, rather than gender and power.

[xl] Some notes by me from the literature on this issue may be found in a blog entry at Some relevant literature can be found in a special issue of Election Law Journal, including:

Anika Gauja 'The Legal Regulation of Political Parties: Promoting Integrity?' Election Law Journal 15(1) 2016

Anika Gauja 'The Legal Regulation of Political Parties: Is There a Global Normative Standard?' Election Law Journal 15(1) 2016

William P Cross 'Considering the Appropriateness of State Regulation of Intra-Party Democracy: A Comparative Politics Perspective' Election Law Journal 15(1) 2016