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ALP (Victorian branch) Submission to Administrators

In 1998 I co-authored a paper, "ALP Reform Discussion Paper 1988: ALP Branches a Structural and Systematic Review" with then Party-organiser Peter Mitchell. This paper was written at a time when there were a number of public reports about branch-stacking within the Victorian branch of the Australian Labor Party. The Discussion Paper sought to provide solutions to these problems.

History repeats itself, and the systematic reasons on why branch-stacking exists and how it is exploited continue. Thus, now some twenty-two years after the initial paper, the same events occur and for the same reasons. Thus, once again, the recommendations of that initial paper are raised again, and again it is pointed out that that as long as the means and opportunity exist for branch-stacking to occur it will. One can readily assume that the attraction of power provides sufficient people the motivation.

I do not wish to have to repeat myself again in another twenty-two years.

1. Change Local Branches

The fundamental reason that branch-stacking exists in the Party is because branches provide an easy avenue for the acquisition of power. Which brings into question, why do local branches even exist? What is their explicit and stated purpose? This excludes what people think they are for, such as "community connection" etc, and concentrates only on what the Party rules say.

Under the rules, they are the avenue to join the party as a voting member (see Rules 4.20, 4.21, 5.4.5, etc). As a voting member they have the power to vote for state conference delegates, candidates, etc. There is no other purpose to the local branches under the rules, and as such they are the means by which people will exploit the system regardless of additional rules which are nominally designed to restrict such activities (e.g., 5.17.1).

The Party exists to acquire public power and implement policy. Branches do not serve this role, however there are functional bodies (if currently often moribund) which do. This includes the explicit general campaign bodies (Federal Electorate Assembly 9.x, State Electorate Assembly 11.1) and the explicit policy bodies (policy forums, 8.2.12).

The separation by which a person can acquire within the party (local branches), the Party's membership resource for public office (FEAs, SEAs, or even local government equivalents), and the Party's means for developing policy (policy forums, policy committees) means that there is a tendency for the individual acquisition within the Party for power without the Party acquiring power or developing good policy.

If the paths for the Party to gain public office and develop policy are combined with the individual acquisition of voting rights within the Party, then this will change. That is, the formal campaign (FEA, SEA) or policy (forums, committees) organs of the Party should to have the ability to empower individual voting rights, and local branches out to be replaced by those bodies.

In addition to this, the introduction of an attendance rule can reduce the capacity for branch-stacking. "Stacks", who have little interest in the Party's public office objectives or policy development, wish to "come out" for a minimum number of times to cast their vote. An attendance rule which is greater than "join the branch, you have voting rights for life" removes this avenue of abuse.

2. Audited Membership and Elections

The decision of the Administrators to select Deloitte's Forensic and Internal Audit team to investigate misconduct in branch membership and related matters is a necessary action, but insufficient in itself to prevent further occurrences. Whilst it is true that having a third party conduct such an investigation contrasts well with previous internal membership reviews and investigations, the principle needs to be elaborated further.

One approach is to have an authority such as the Victorian Electoral Commission or Australian Electoral Commission ensure compliance of the party "electoral roll". An example of this is the conduct of the elections for various unions (e.g., the NTEU) by such commissions. Having an external public authority, with stronger enforcement powers, will fundamentally "clean up" electoral processes. Certainly, there is a weight of evidence that independent external authorities, such as electoral commissions, have greater ability to provide election transparency than those conducted by internal appointments.