Greens' reversal on Callan Park exposes some of their sillier supporters

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With The Greens backflipping on their decision to deny Syrian refugees accommodation at historic Callan Park, some of their supporters are now looking rather foolish, writes Peter Wicks.

I WRITE a lot of pieces that are critical of political parties — primarily the Coalition parties, but also various decisions and factional elements within the Labor Party, my own Party. To a vastly lesser degree, I occasionally write an article critical of the Greens.

A couple of weeks ago, however, I wrote one such article on the Greens in NSW, who were voting against the prospect of Leichardt Council even looking into offering a helping hand to Syrian refugees. It was an exercise in political gameplay gone mad and it has almost certainly resulted in damage being done to the Greens in the state and across the country.

But now, I want to congratulate the Greens as they have had a change of heart on this issue. The Leichardt Greens last week agreed to follow Labor’s lead in the area and back the Labor councillors' motion to look into offering temporary accommodation to refugee families as they settle into their new surroundings in a foreign city.

As a result, the motion has now passed through Leichardt Council.

I’m not sure what brought about this backflip by the Greens, as it could have been many things. Shame, embarrassment, exposure, pressure from above, factional fallout, or maybe a combination of all these things finally caused common sense to kick in. Whatever it is, I’d like to congratulate the Greens for doing the right thing in the end.

The motion was to look at the possibility of gaining funding from the Federal and State governments to refurbish a section of the Callan Park psychiatric hospital facility to accommodate these refugees temporarily.

After supporting the motion initially, the Greens at the 11th hour added some conditions to their support in the manner of amendments — some of which belonged in a political comedy, probably slapstick.

This time, however, the Greens do not require a slogan to be hung up on a banner in the centre of town in exchange for their support.

Nor do they require that Shorten and Turnbull hold hands and lead a team called the “Callan Park Taskforce” across the world creating peace in areas of conflict, perhaps whilst singing Kum Ba Yah.

Whilst many shook their heads in dismay at the Greens original decision on this matter, it was the reaction of Greens members and supporters to those who reported on this that alarmed many.

Green supporters, adamant that their Party could do no wrong, hit the comments pages on media and blog sites with all manner of ill-conceived attacks.

Attacks on both myself and my article on Wixxyleaks and on the Independent Australia shone a light on some Greens supporters — and what is showed wasn't very pretty.

It is these kind of supporters and members that ensure that the Greens will always be a party of protest rather than a party of power. These people go online wearing their hostile hat and abuse people online and calling any questioning of their Party as “Greens bashing”.

If questioning or criticising the Party is something that requires punishment and berating, then what is the ultimate goal? A dictatorship? Those always work so well.

The Callan Park facility is an historic building that sits on Sydney Harbour, right next to public transport and in a suburb on the city centres doorstep. If you wanted to do up an historic building and impress new arrivals to the country with the harbour, access to city centre and a vibrant community, you’d be hard pushed to find a better location anywhere.

Nevertheless, Greens supporters thought that the best defence of their political heroes was to try to smear the Callan Park location. It was referred to as a "nuthouse", a "loony bin", an "insane asylum" and, most commonly, a "hell hole". Implications that people granted asylum were going to be slumming it in a form of prison with crazy people.

Whilst true that the facility was built to house the insane back in the 1800’s, and some sections are still used for psychiatric care, it is a huge complex and refugee arrivals would not be sharing accommodation with patients, far less slumming it. Some sections are currently used as an arts centre.

Anyone who understands the history of mental health care in Sydney knows that the early psychiatric facilities were all waterfront. The reason for this was to protect public safety by not transporting patients and prisoners by road, they were moved via barges, hence the waterfront locations at places like Callan Park, as well as other facilities such as Parramatta and Gladesville. Those who know this also know what fantastic structures these facilities are.

Those Greens supporters who were implying that these buildings are not fit for human inhabitants not only insult those with mental disabilities, but also highlights either their own ignorance or willingness to fabricate.

One such commenter was so offended by the accuracy of Independent Australia’s headline on the article – 'Greens vote against helping refugees' – they even offered an alternative headline:

'Leichhardt Council Greens vote down proposal to put refugees in ex loony bin ghetto accommodation.'

So does that commenter, whom I won’t name, think we should use that headline for this piece and replace the word “down” with the word “for” now? Now that the Greens have gone back to backing the motion again, I’m sure the description would be more of a palatial bent and far less "ghetto".

Another line of attack from the Greens supporters was that the motion was going to see refugees shoved “out of sight out of mind”, and referred to them as destined to become virtual prisoners. The basis of this argument is that the refugees coming would be free and should be able to live wherever they choose.

Coming down from Cloud Nine, those who live on planet earth understand that these Syrian refugees are not arriving with a property guide in one hand and a million bucks in the other. It is obvious that these are people who have recently left a refugee camp are going to need temporary accommodation and time to adjust; to deny them this is to cast them out into the street.

Whatever it was that finally dragged the local Greens from changing their policy from Turning Back The Refugees, to offering them a helping hand I, for one, am glad for it.

When it comes to greeting refugees fleeing hardship we should be united in our welcome.

Make no mistake, I am not saying that the Labor Party are in any way leading the charge in regards to people seeking asylum — far from it.

However, if the Greens want to know who the real enemy is, in this case they need not look towards Labor, they could start looking at some of their own vitriolic supporters.

The enemy within.

Peter Wicks is an ALP member and former NSW State Labor candidate. You can follow Peter on Twitter @madwixxy

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