Peter Fitzgerald writes: Victorian ALP members have been given a lot to think about lately. There’s the pandemic, the climate catastrophe, an outlook of economic depression, and normal ALP operations have been suspended due to a loss of confidence in the integrity of party membership rolls, and the misconduct of certain factional leaders.
There is so much to be addressed at a policy and political level, and where does the ALP find itself? With broken machinery and corruption. Distracted and not yet back on track.
Finding our way again as a party will require attention to due process and reform. It requires recognition of the misconduct, new rules and better processes of oversight of membership and elections. It means a better culture, one that recognises that the ALP must clean things up, real quick, to be able to further pursue the threads of building platforms for a better Australia.
It may not be a matter of common recognition, but the problems are not just branch-stacking and its impact on the integrity of membership rolls. The problems also include the use of captive memberships to elect people who would not otherwise get elected on merit or contribution.
Among the issues to be addressed is the centrality of the secret ballot to voting mechanisms in the party. The secret ballot is called the Australian Ballot by the Encyclopedia Britannica due it first being legislated here in Victoria in 1857. It calls for secrecy – freedom from others being able to see how you are voting; as well as systems for tracking votes that don’t link individual voters to their completed ballot. It calls for a safe space free of intimidation by powerful others.
Our party rules require the secret ballot for Federal and State preselections. However, it is a well-documented feature of our culture of tolerance for misconduct that factional leaders typically take the ballot papers from the members of the POSC (Public Office Selection Committee), and fill them in themselves. The same happens at elections for office holders at State and National Conference. Alternatively, members complete the ballot paper and show them to the overseeing powerbroker. The factional culture that demands either show-and-tell or just plain hand-over-your-ballot-paper destroys any semblance of integrity in the voting process.
Factional leaders defend this practice as both critical to factional discipline and carried out by consenting and willing adults. This is a kind of neo-liberal approach to rights: I should be able to trade or even sell my vote as long as it is done openly.
I have found no qualified returning officer that says someone else can just take a bunch of ballot papers and fill it out themselves for multiple others. Yet while such practices are contrary to the party rules they are never publicly condemned, or reversed on appeal, because unless the major factions agree the party rules are not enforced.
I have made a detailed submission to the Party Administrators on how the party can restore its integrity through better oversight of elections; involving potentially the VEC or AEC – or even outsourced auditors – supervising the conduct of internal ALP elections. With the appointment of the Administrators we have an unprecedented opportunity to introduce the kind of mechanisms, such as the secret ballot, that any other organisation in our society that calls itself democratic would maintain as a matter of course.