HERALD'S OPINION: Preselection battles affect the Greens on Newcastle council

THE Newcastle Greens have been a fixture on Newcastle City Council since 1995, when John Sutton, the late Margaret Henry and Liz Rene became the first three of a succession of party members to be elected as councillors.

Although their voting record shows the Greens side more often with Labor than with the conservatives, the party in Newcastle has proved itself over time to be an independent bloc of political opinion, basing its decisions on what its members would say was a “principles-based” approach to politics.

The Greens also emerged from a school of thought that valued consensus decision-making over the pure brutalism of “having the numbers”, but this has not always been enough to rise above the cries of “factionalism” that have been occasionally heard from within party forums.

With Newcastle council elections scheduled for September, months of maneuvering within the Greens Newcastle branch appear to have taken their toll on both of the party’s sitting councillors, Michael Osborne and Therese Doyle.

Cr Osborne has confirmed a decision not to stand again after 13 years on council, saying it was time to let a “younger team take over”.

Cr Doyle, on the other hand, has been challenged by a well-known anti-coal activist, Dr John MacKenzie.  Despite being preselected unopposed as the party’s lord mayoral candidate, Cr Doyle is struggling to win a place as a council representative, her only practical chance of election. Her fate will likely be determined at a Greens party meeting on Saturday.

Cr Doyle has been outspoken in her criticism of much of what the state government is doing in Newcastle. So, too, has Cr Osborne, but for a variety of reasons, the veteran Green has garnered a degree of respect from his political opponents that is perhaps rare in Newcastle’s bloody City Hall politics.

From the Newcastle Herald’s perspective, Cr Osborne has been a very good councillor, and one whose moderate contributions to civic debates belied his party’s reputation – deserved or not – for being anti-development.

With only two sitting councillors, the Greens are at something of a nadir in their Newcastle numbers. If Dr MacKenzie is to be the new “face” of the party, he may have his work cut out in an election that could feature a Melbourne Cup field of runners.

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