News / Politics

Conlan quits ‘racist’ Greens

Councillor accuses party of ‘structural racism’ and not living up to democratic principles

Merri-bek Councillor James Conlan. 

Mark Phillips
Updated: Tuesday, February 7, 2023

BRUNSWICK-based Merri-bek Councillor James Conlan has quit the Australian Greens in solidarity with outspoken Senator Lidia Thorpe and will sit out the remainder of his term as an independent.

Cr Conlan, who was elected in 2020, announced his resignation from the party in a lengthy statement on social media on Tuesday afternoon.

Accusing the Greens of “structural racism”, he said he could no longer remain in a party that “ignores the voices of marginalised groups, especially First Nations women”.

Senator Thorpe resigned from the Greens on Monday afternoon, shortly before the party declared it would support a Yes vote for an Indigenous Voice to Parliament.

She will continue in the Senate as the leader of a “Blak Sovereign Movement”, with the freedom to campaign against a constitutional amendment that would recognise Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.

Senator Thorpe is yet to arrive at a final position, but she has criticised the Voice as potentially ceding First Nations sovereignty.

In his statement, Cr Conlan criticised the Greens for reversing their previous prioritisation of a Treaty before Voice and of sidelining their most prominent Indigenous elected representative.

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“I’m not interested in being a member and elected representative of a political party that talks big on anti-racism, whilst silencing, undermining and crushing the voices of those who most need the party’s support and leadership,” he wrote in his resignation announcement.

“To be clear – I am not resigning from the Greens because of the party’s support for Voice. I am resigning in solidarity with Lidia Thorpe, and in opposition to the party’s rejection of grassroots democracy and its sidelining of First Nations voices.”

Cr Conlan’s resignation means the Greens bloc on Merri-bek Council will be reduced to three in the 11 member council.

He told Brunswick Voice he had informed his Greens colleagues of his decision, but it was not clear from his comments whether this was before or after he published his statement on social media.

Cr Conlan’s decision to resign from the Greens comes amid a heated debate within the party about its approach to the referendum. The party’s policy since 2020 has been Truth, Treaty, Voice in that order.

Cr Conlan said he had been a member of the Greens since 2018 and first voted for the party in 2007.

Happier days: Cr Conlan celebrates his election in 2020 with fellow Greens (left to right) Angelica Panopoulos, Mark Riley and Adam Pulford. Photo: Facebook

He said he had been increasingly concerned at the way the party’s leadership had dealt with the Voice debate internally and the final straw was an email sent to Greens members on Tuesday announcing that it would be supporting a Yes vote at the referendum.

“There’s been no engagement with members about flipping the policy of the party,” he said. “I would think that a party that is supposedly about democratic grassroots principles would have a democratic process for changing its position but the only information we had was an email sent to all members.”

Neither his fellow Greens councillors nor the Greens state MP for Brunswick, Tim Read, have made any public statement about Cr Conlan’s resignation, but among those who have posted supportive comments on social media was the Greens candidate for the seat of Cooper at last year’s federal election, Celeste Liddle.

Cr Conlan said he admired Senator Thorpe for providing a model of “inspiring, unwavering political leadership unafraid to speak truth to power”.

Last week, a large crowd at the Brunswick Town Hall heard prominent Indigenous academic and co-chair of the Voice Senior Advisory Group, Professor Marcia Langton, denounce Senator Thorpe as “a wrecker” who appeared determined to sabotage the Voice to Parliament.

Cr Conlan said he had no intention of resigning from Merri-bek Council.

“I will be an independent and will vote how I see it on each issue,”  he said.

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