THE Newcastle Greens have called in the lawyers in a bid to sort out an increasingly bitter preselection fight that could see Therese Doyle forced off the city’s council by her own party.
A motion passed at a Greens party meeting on Saturday and obtained by the Newcastle Herald states the left-wing party had agreed to “defer consideration” of candidates for the September local government election in order to obtain legal advice about “the constitutionality of the conduct of the preselection”.
It comes after the Herald revealed last week that Cr Doyle, a first-term Newcastle councillor and long-time Greens activist in the city, had been controversially rubbed out of council preselection after what one member described as a “conservative faction” within the group turned against her.
Despite being selected unopposed as the party’s candidate for lord mayor and winning 60 per cent of the preselection vote in the Ward 1 ballot, Cr Doyle’s factional enemies used a “quirk” of the Newcastle Greens constitution not shared by any other branch in NSW to force her off the winnable ward ballot.
The controversial “no support” provision states that if a party candidate receives a negative vote from more than 25 per cent of preselectors they are knocked off the ballot. Cr Doyle received a 26 per cent vote of “no support” from the preselectors in Ward 1.
Last week fellow Greens Councillor Michael Osborne, who is not standing for reelection, said the rule was “madness” and that he had previously tried unsuccessfully to have it removed from the constitution.
Now, a decision on the candidates to run for Newcastle City Council has been delayed indefinitely as the party asks lawyers to decide whether the move against Cr Doyle was within the rules of the constitution.
A three-person committee will spend up to $5,000 obtaining the legal advice, before briefing an extraordinary meeting of the group on its findings.
Supporters of Cr Doyle argue that the “no support” clause was inserted to stop “undesirable” candidates from standing for the party, and not as a factional tool.
However the constitution simply states if 25 per cent or more of ballot papers indicate no support for a nominee than “that nominee shall not be elected to that office”.
Cr Doyle said the attempt to remove her was “surprising and distressing”.
“It was a shock, but that's all I can say at the moment,” she said.
At last week’s vote only two other candidates – John MacKenzie and Cathy Burgess – were preselected by the party, leaving two other vacant ward spots.
While Dr MacKenzie and Ms Burgess are likely to take the two most winnable spots if that vote is upheld, the party may also determine whether it might be possible for Cr Doyle to fill the vacancies in the other two wards.
While sources told the Herald the legal advice will consider whether it is within the rules for Cr Doyle to stand in another ward, Cr Doyle said it “hadn’t been discussed”
The party’s constitution states that if a candidate reaches the 25 per cent “no support” threshold they “shall not be preselected for that position during that preselection process”.
It’s the second time the Newcastle Greens have had to delay picking a team to contest September’s local council election, as factional infighting continues to plague the group.
In November the Herald reported that the Newcastle Greens first-ever elected councillor, John Sutton, unleashed an extraordinary attack on the party’s culture, accusing some members of “political careerism”, “crude factionalism”, and claiming there was “unprecedented division” within party ranks.
That prompted the returning officer, Graham Whittall, to suspend the preselection process.