|Senator for New South Wales|
1 July 2011
|Member of the New South Wales Legislative Council|
27 March 1999 – 19 July 2010
30 May 1951
Sydney, New South Wales, Australia
|Political party||Australian Greens|
Lee Rhiannon (born 30 May 1951), an Australian politician, is a senator for New South Wales, elected at the 2010 federal election, representing the Australian Greens. Prior to her election to the Australian Parliament, Rhiannon was elected to the New South Wales Legislative Council, serving between 1999 and 2010, representing the NSW Greens.
Lee Rhiannon was born Lee Brown, the daughter of Bill and Freda Brown, who were long-term members of the Communist Party of Australia (CPA) and later the Soviet-aligned Socialist Party of Australia (SPA). Her parents' membership of the CPA led to documentation of her life by the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO) from as early as the age of seven. She joined the SPA around 1973.
She sat the New South Wales Higher School Certificate at Sydney Girls High School in 1969 and graduated in 1975 as a Bachelor of Science, majoring in botany and zoology with honours in botany, at the University of New South Wales.
During the 1970s Rhiannon was arrested during anti-apartheid protests. In the 1980s she helped organise a "peace camp" protest outside the joint US-Australian defence facility at Pine Gap, in central Australia. According to Mark Aarons, she left the Socialist Party in the early 1980s, but remained active in party-sponsored activities until the late 1980s. She edited the Soviet-funded and backed newspaper Survey from 1988 until it ceased publication in 1990. One opinion piece by Rhiannon in Survey mourned the fall of the Berlin Wall and expressed fear at the prospect of the disappearance of the German Democratic Republic and the reunification of the two Germanies. This piece received renewed attention from Rhiannon's political opponents during her campaign for the Australian Senate twenty-one years later. She joined the Greens in 1990.
Lee Brown married Pat Gorman, editor of the Miners Federation newspaper Common Cause and a member of the Communist Party, from whom she separated in 1987. During her marriage she used the surname "O'Gorman." They had three children. Following their separation, she adopted the surname "Rhiannon", the name of a figure from Welsh mythology.
In 1971 the Communist Party split over attitudes to the Soviet Union, particularly the 1968 invasion of Czechoslovakia. Senator Rhiannon’s parents, Bill and Freda Brown, left the CPA and joined the Socialist Party of Australia, which was loyal to the Soviet Union and supported the invasion. The Browns joined the CPA at a time when it was totally loyal to the Soviet Union and Stalin’s leadership. They could not have remained in the CPA if they did not share this belief. Brown was the editor of the CPA paper Tribune, which strongly supported the Soviet invasion of Hungary. By her own account, she joined the SPA in the early ‘70s, at a time when the SPA was an outspokenly pro-Soviet party. Mark Aarons, at that time himself an active communist, says she joined the SPA at its founding conference in 1971. He writes: “She became a senior office-bearer of the youth wing, serving on the central committee’s youth subcommittee; attended Australia–Soviet Friendship Society meetings; and developed close relations with Soviet, Czechoslovak and East German communist youth groups. In 1977, Rhiannon led an SPA delegation to Moscow at the invitation of Leonid Brezhnev’s neo-Stalinist regime.” In 1972 Brian Aarons, brother of Mark, son of the CPA leader Laurie Aarons and a critic of the Soviet Union, had an exchange of letters with Lee Brown in the University of New South Wales student newspaper Tharunka. Aarons wrote: “She [Brown] might like to tell us whether she supports the invasion of Czechoslovakia, the shooting of the Polish workers and the suppression of socialist democracy in the Soviet Union. Then we can have an honest debate about revolutionary principles.” In reply, Brown did not answer this question. Instead she wrote: “Socialist countries naturally do make errors and therefore criticism and self-criticism will be forthcoming. However, I feel that Brian uses his criticism of socialist [countries] in an opportunist respectability-seeking fashion, not for constructive improvement.” This exchange has recently been used by Gerard Henderson as evidence that Rhiannon was in fact a defender of the Soviet Union’s repressive actions in the 1960s and ‘70s, something she has denied… In 1980-83 Lee O’Gorman (as she then was) was NSW secretary of the Union of Australian Women, founded in 1950 as a CPA front organisation and controlled by the SPA after the 1971 split. In the late 1970s Bill Brown was editor of the SPA journal Survey and O’Gorman was a regular contributor to it. Her articles frequently praised the Soviet Union (then ruled by Leonid Brezhnev’s regime). Mark Aarons wrote of Rhiannon’s past in May 2011: “This would be simply history if Rhiannon had admitted her youthful errors and moved on. But, in a lengthy blog posted last August, she defended her parents’ and her own political records… Nowhere does she acknowledge how dreadfully wrong she was about the Soviet Union, nor express regrets for her gullible admiration of this abominable system. In failing to deal with her history honestly, Rhiannon places a question mark over her suitability for any leadership role, especially in a party supposedly built on integrity.
New South Wales Legislative Council
Rhiannon contested the New South Wales Legislative Council at the 1999 state election for the Australian Greens. She was elected with three percent of the statewide vote (more than 100,000 votes), joining fellow Green Ian Cohen in the state's upper house. She was re-elected with over nine percent of the vote (more than 300,000 votes) at the 2007 state election, taking her seat with three other Greens MLCs.
Rhiannon used her New South Wales maiden parliamentary speech in 1999 to announce her opposition to a development proposal by the Carr Labor Government for Walsh Bay. Rhiannon called on the Australian Labor Party to advance instead the party's constitutional ideals for "redistribution of political and economic power" and "the development of public enterprises based upon... forms of social ownership". Rhiannon also spoke against Australia's British colonial legacy and announced that she was the first MLC to sit in the NSW Parliament without the title "Honourable". She spoke of her family's involvement in the labour movement and acknowledged her parents' membership of the Communist Party of Australia and said she was proud of their tradition of "optimistic social activism". She reiterated Greens opposition to privatisation of public assets and to the Howard Government's Goods and Services Tax.
Rhiannon served on the following committees in state parliament: General Purpose Standing Committees, Joint Select Committees on the Cross City Tunnel, a Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters, a Standing Committee on Law and Justice, a Select Committee on the NSW Taxi Industry, a Select Committee on the Increase in Prisoner Population, and a Committee on the Office of the Ombudsman and Police Integrity Commission.
In November 2002, in the week prior to protests against the World Trade Organisation in Sydney, Rhiannon spoke in support of the protesters and organised a public conference on Civil Disobedience at the NSW Parliament. Rhiannon spoke against police actions during the S11 Protests, which violently protested against meetings of the World Economic Forum in Melbourne in 2000. Rhiannon called on Police Minister Michael Costa to guarantee that police violence would not be used against protesters in Sydney. Costa in return called on Rhiannon to resign for hosting the civil disobedience seminar. Rhiannon lobbied the Vatican against considering the Archbishop of Sydney, George Pell, for the position of Pope because of his conservative views.[self-published source?] In 2007 she referred him to the parliamentary privileges committee, alleging "contempt of parliament" for comments he made in opposition to embryonic stem cell research legislation.
On Monday 1 June 2010, Rhiannon spoke on the steps of Sydney Town Hall, to a rally in response to Israel's military blockade of Gaza. Sheikh Taj el-Din al Hilaly was another speaker. On Saturday 5 June 2010 Rhiannon and al Hilaly - holding a banner - marched in another response to Israel's blockade. The Australian reported that Rhiannon initially denied, "any association with the controversial Islamic cleric", but then admitted she marched with al Hilaly.
During her term in the NSW Parliament, she was the Greens NSW parliamentary spokesperson for the following portfolio areas:
- Firearms; Donations; Mineral Resources; Roads; Transport; Health; Sexuality and Gender Identity; Electoral Issues; Industrial Relations; Attorney General; Parliamentary Process; Ports & Waterways; Gaming & Racing; Youth; South East NSW; Women; Animal Welfare; Rural Affairs; Science; and the Hunter region.[self-published source?]
Rhiannon contested and won a seat in the Australian Senate for New South Wales at the August 2010 federal election for the Australian Greens. She resigned from the NSW Legislative Council when the federal election was called, with a ballot of party members selecting Cate Faehrmann to fill the casual vacancy.
Rhiannon was elected with 10.7 percent of the statewide vote (more than 400,000 votes), a swing to the Greens in New South Wales of 2.3 percent since the previous federal election. She would share the balance of power with eight other Greens senators from July 2011.
At the December 2010 NSW Greens State Conference a resolution was adopted in support of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign against Israel. In support of the statement, Rhiannon said that the BDS campaign was "motivated by the universal principles of freedom, justice and equal rights".
Following her election as a Senator, she continued supporting the BDS campaign saying, "I see the value of that tactic as a way to promoting Palestinian human rights." Subsequently the Greens federal leader Bob Brown said that he had conveyed his disapproval of this policy emphasis to Rhiannon, saying that, "it was damaging to the Greens campaign".
Rhiannon took up her seat in the Australian Senate on 1 July 2011 and in August 2011 it was reported that Rhiannon had refused to back away from the BDS campaign.
In December 2011, the NSW Greens abandoned their official support for an international boycott against Israel and resolved to actively support the Australian Greens position. Rhiannon said that this "recognises the legitimacy of the BDS campaign as a political tactic and also recognises that there is a diversity of views in the community and the Greens."
Announcing portfolio responsibilities for the Australian Greens in June 2011, Bob Brown allocated Rhiannon the following portfolios:
- Democracy; Local Government; Higher Education; Assisting on National Security; Women; International Aid and Development; Animal Welfare; and Forests.
Other political and community engagement
- "ASIO spooks spied on little girls". The Sunday Telegraph. Australia. 30 April 2010. Retrieved 30 April 2010.
- "Responding To Attacks On My Family And Political Background". Blog. Lee Rhiannon. 3 September 2010. Retrieved 1 June 2011.
- "Ms. Lee Rhiannon". Former Members. Parliament of New South Wales. 31 August 2010. Retrieved 9 May 2011.
- Nicholson, Brendan (2 April 2011). "I'm no watermelon: Rhiannon". The Australian. Retrieved 9 May 2011.
- Aarons, Mark (2010). The Family File. Melbourne: Black Inc. p. 276. ISBN 978-1-86395-481-5.
- Brown, red, Green – and a Tokyo Rose
- Kerr, Christian (9 July 2011). "Greens senator Lee Rhiannon fudges the answers on the red tinge of her political past". The Australian. Retrieved 9 July 2011.
- Tribune, 19 December 1984
- "1999 Legislative Council Results". State elections. New South Wales Electoral Commission. 30 December 2010.
- "NSW 2007 state election upper house results" (pdf). 2007 Legislative Council Results. New South Wales Electoral Commission. 12 April 2007.
- "Labor's new crime: Civil disobedience". The Sydney Morning Herald. 1 November 2002.
- Kingston, Margo (14 November 2002). "Hey Joh: Costa's the new demon along the watchtower". The Sydney Morning Herald.
- "Greens lobby Vatican to reject Pell". News. Lee Rhiannon. 13 April 2005. Retrieved 12 May 2011.
- "Inquiry into comments made by Cardinal George Pell". Legislative Council – Privileges Committee. Parliament of New South Wales. 29 September 2007. Retrieved 12 May 2011.
- "Pell slams "stalinist" parliamentary contempt probe". Catholic News. Australian Catholic University. 18 June 2007. Retrieved 12 May 2011.
- Sheehan, Paul (7 June 2010). "Beware the words of a wolf dressed in sheikh's clothing". Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved 30 November 2013.
- Salusinszky, Imre (13 April 2011). "Rhiannon marched with Hilali". The Australian. Retrieved 30 November 2013.
- "Portfolios". Lee Rhiannon. Retrieved 1 July 2011.
- "Greens' Rhiannon quits for federal bid". ABC News. Australia. 6 February 2009. Retrieved 21 August 2009.
- "Greens announce new team for NSW Parliament". The Greens NSW. 29 November 2009. Retrieved 1 July 2011.
- "NSW Greens plot political merry-go-round". The Sydney Morning Herald. 29 November 2009. Retrieved 4 January 2010.
- "First Preferences by Group – NSW". Senate results – 2010. Australian Electoral Commission. 15 September 2010. Retrieved 10 June 2011.
- "Greens' Rhiannon gets Senate spot". The Sydney Morning Herald. AAP. 15 September 2010.
- "Israel boycotts now official NSW Greens policy". The Australian Jewish News. 9 December 2010. Retrieved 9 May 2011.
- Massola, James; Kelly, Joe (1 April 2011). "Greens leader Bob Brown slaps down Lee Rhiannon on Israel boycott policy". The Australian. Retrieved 9 May 2011.
- Kerr, Christian (29 August 2011). "Greens senator Lee Rhiannon stands by Israel boycott". The Australian. Retrieved 30 August 2011.
- "Greens NSW Reviews BDS". The Greens NSW. Retrieved 8 December 2011.
- Tovey, Josephine (5 December 2011). "Greens abandon official support for Israel boycott". The Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved 8 December 2011.
- "'Happy' Greens decide who'll do what with new portfolios". The Australian. AAP. 26 June 2011. Retrieved 2 July 2011.
- NSW Greens Homepage
- Australian Greens Homepage
- Text of Maiden Speech by Rhiannon to NSW Parliament
- LeeRhiannon.org.au – official website