Late June 2020: The Administrators wrote to all Victorian Party members to provide an opportunity to put their initial views based on the following four key questions:
1. as a matter of principle, what should be the reform priority for the Administrators?
2. what are the critical rule changes that you think are needed to guarantee integrity and probity in our Party’s operations?
3. what are the key operational and cultural changes required to support these rule changes?
4. how should the Victorian Branch of the Party operate while Administrators are in place?
Members were given three weeks to provide their feedback via a secure web portal, and 442 members and groups took the opportunity to make a contribution. A further 23 submitted formal written submissions outside of the portal.
In addition to the key themes set out below, it was clear that members believe that the problems within the Party are significant, that they want lasting change, and are broadly supportive of the decision to appoint the Administrators, as well as the decision to scrutinise memberships (both past and present).
There were, understandably, some who were aggrieved by the loss of their voting rights. These voices were outweighed by those who are angry about what has happened and want to ensure that it will not happen again.
While the responses were diverse, 8 key themes were apparent. In broad order of weight across the submissions, they are:
Theme 1: A sense of anger in respect of stacking, as well as other corrupt conduct, and the need to eradicate this conduct
There was resounding anger among members in respect of the revelations of branch-stacking and the damage this this has caused to Labor’s public standing. To this end, a significant volume of members called for punitive action against those involved, such as expulsion from the Party, as well as remedial steps to ensure that branch-stacking, and other improper conduct, cannot reoccur.
Suggestions to prevent this conduct included, inter alia, establishing rolling audits and an independent ‘party ombudsman’.
Theme 2: The decision to appoint the Administrators was seen as an unfortunate, yet necessary step.
As a consequence of anger expressed by members, there was broad support for the decision to appoint the Administrators to review and administer the Branch, and to make recommendations.
This is not to say that some were not dismayed by the suspension of voting rights, but that members believed that the decision to appoint the Administrators was a necessary step in future-proofing the Party.
Some were, however, sceptical that the review would lead to real change.
Theme 3: The role of factions
The role of factions featured prominently in the responses and branch-stacking was broadly linked by many to factionalism. Many members believed that factionalism did more harm than good and expressed concern in respect of both the secrecy that surrounds factional groups and the power that these groups wield.
Members were aware of the stablising role factions played historically, however, most believed that the current state of factionalism represented a significant problem that needed to be addressed.
Theme 4: Greater transparency
Members expressed concern about the lack of transparency within the Party.
In this regard, Head Office was the subject of criticism; members believed that appointments within Head Office were not always made on merit and that Head Office was disconnected from local branches and ‘rank and file’ members.
Some members, noting significant delays to transfer central members to local branches, believed Head Office was not administratively effective.
Additionally, decisions of the Administrative Committee were seen to be shrouded in secrecy and removed from the broader membership.
Theme 5: Democratisation of the Party
There was an unambiguous call for greater ‘democratisation’ of the Party.
While noting Party rules and structures, there was a belief of some that some groups carried disproportionate weight in respect of decision-making.
Many regarded the pre-selection process as being undemocratic, noting the weight of factions and other groups.
To this end, some cited problems with the Public Office Selection Committee and others expressed concerns about the pre-selection of members who are ‘parachuted’ into electorates.
A number of members advocated for a better system to enforce the secret ballots.
Theme 6: Membership processes – noting almost all responses dealt with membership processes, including payments, legitimacy, process.
Problems with the membership application process was a clear theme. To this end, members called for the abolition of cash payments for memberships, for memberships to be paid by traceable means, and for a comprehensive review of the membership processes, as well as past memberships, in respect of members’ bona-fides, concessional and bulk payments, the role of branches, and the administrative role of Head Office in processing memberships.
Theme 7: The role and composition of branches
The current branch structure was the subject of criticism and many questioned whether it remains fit-for-purpose. Most were of the view that local branches should operate, but noted the need for greater interaction and support from Head Office, as well as more robust and transparent practices to improve probity.
That said, some considered that local branches ought to be abolished in favour of central membership.
Theme 8: Party culture
The need to improve Party culture through better engagement with grassroots and younger members was also apparent. A large number of members believed that, in order to mitigate against branch-stacking, there was a need to grow Party membership.
Many rank and file members felt as though they carried no weight within the Party and called for greater interaction between individual members and the Party, MPs, and Head Office.
In addition, there was a clear desire to restore the Party’s image by enhancing integrity, democracy, and transparency.