23 Sept 2020: Eric Dearricott, dedicated ALP Independent and long-time ALP warrior for transparency and democracy addressed a Melbourne FEA forum. He said:
People within the Party organisation knew the stacking exposed by 60 Minutes was happening but a culture had evolved that allowed stacking to take place unchecked. Party Officials saw the stackers coming into State Office day after day with wads of renewals and cash to pay for thousands of stacks. But they didn’t call it out.
Admin Committee members would have known. They saw the membership reports showing stacks going into key branches in key seats 6 to 13 members per meeting, but they turned a blind eye
Former Party officials even prevented Membership Administration Committee members from investigating stacking by denying them their right to inspect the Party’s online membership payment records.
When Admin did appoint stacking “investigators” their reports either whitewashed stacking or were ignored.
When individual Admin Committee members like me took cases to the Disputes Tribunal whose members were appointed by the Committee on a factional basis, their cases were rejected out of hand.
I applaud the Administrators appointment of three non-factional legal practitioners as the new Disputes Tribunal, an action that should ensure fairer Tribunal outcomes and deter stackers and hope that they will also embrace an independent ombudsman to initiate and carry out investigations into branch stacking and take warranted cases to the Tribunal.
The operations of the Administrative Committee
Failure to address branch stacking is but a single instance of the joint failure of the elected members of the Administrative Committee and the Party Officials they appoint to ensure that the Party is run in the interests of its members and supporters and supporters at large.
Admin Committee processes are hamstrung.
The State Secretary does not provide detailed reports to members prior to meetings and crucial reports are distributed only in hard copy at the meeting and collected afterwards.
For proper governance the State Secretary must send detailed papers to Admin Members three days prior to meetings as required by the rules.
Party Officials almost never report important information and processes to Admin meetings.
Matters such as a member recruitment, membership retention, the Community Action Network, member induction and training, branches, communication, and involvement of members are never or at best rarely discussed. They should be!
There are few subcommittees beyond the Membership Administration Committee (MAC) and the Campaign Committee.
There should be more sub-committees, with each Admin member required to be on at least one of them. Committees such as a Membership Growth Committee, Communications Committee, Membership Development Committee.
Such subcommittees would increase engagement of admin members and require admin & party officials to look to the future of the party by nurturing and growing its membership.
The role of party officials and party operations and governance
Put simply the responsibility of State Office and its officials is twofold – to ensure that Victorian Labor wins elections but also to foster, include and train its membership so that Labor principles and its strength and numbers equip it to be Labor’s on the ground voice now and into the future.
State Office Officials are highly committed and work as a team to ensuring Labor election victories. But servicing members and branches, training members, communicating, growing the Party and ensuring the integrity of the rolls have been and remain low priority, inadequately staffed areas at State Office.
The Party must employ adequate staff to properly service its members, branches and constituent units.
Membership integrity oversight
It is worth noting that detection and reporting of membership rorts has been through the work of one or two members of the Membership Administration Committee (MAC) not Party Officials or staff.
The number of State Office memberships staff should be increased and the technology they use upgraded so that they are able to check the integrity of membership applications and renewals.
Memberships staff should be given the responsibility to detect and report suspect membership apps and renewals, with MAC and Admin Committee providing the oversight and having the right to inspect original submitted materials including online membership payments.
A smaller Administrative Committee?
Finally the Macklin/Bracks Discussion Paper implies that the Admin Committee would be more effective if it was smaller and acted more like the board of a company or large organisation.
The discussion paper correctly states
“… the Administrative Committee is the body that carries out the decisions of State Conference and acts on critical issues that arise between state conferences”
By implication Administrative Committee should be representative of State Conference and the Party at large.
It needs to be big enough to reflect the diversity of the Party – such diversity can and does improve the Administrative Committees governance oversight.
At its current size the Admin Committee usually includes one members for outside the factions who seeks to ensure that ordinary members do not have their voting rights stripped, inspects membership applications for stacks, reports decisions of Admin to members and reminds Admin and Party Officials that their responsibility is to all members.
The Admin Committee does need to be more effective and behave more like a Board but that does not mean it has to be smaller.
Personally I believe that the Administrative Committee should be directly elected by the membership – if Admin Committee is to be made smaller, such direct election would be imperative.