From Eric Dearricott, Secretary Vic Labor Independents and about to be retrenched Admin Committee member.
Tomorrow the ALP National Executive will consider the recommendations of Jenny Macklin and Steve Bracks for reform of Victorian Labor following their appointment as Administrators prompted by the June “Sixty Minutes” exposure of disturbing branch stacking within Victorian Labor. Their report also contains an account of Deloitte’s audit of the membership seeking to weed out the stacks. Not unusually the media had the recommendations before Party members did. I have now seen a copy and below I have attempted a summary of their 56 page report and its recommendations but first – an overview.
Tackling branch stacking: In my view the changes recommended by Steve and Jenny in this area are excellent: the requirement that all membership payments be by traceable means, removing the option of payment of membership fees through branches, membership renewals by direct debit from members personal accounts with the option of monthly, quarterly or annual payments. Photo id when joining and when voting. Removing responsibility for membership applications and transfers from branch Executives.
Adjudication and investigation: A Disputes Tribunal Panel whose members are legally qualified and introduction of an independent Party Monitor to conduct investigations.
More transparency in Party reporting to members and a greater requirement to provide training for position holders.
Recommendations that concern
Branches will be based on residence in State electorate with one branch per State electorate – It is not at all clear this will increase the effectiveness of branches or participation in them. The change will be very disruptive and will be followed by further disruption of the imminent State redistribution. Members will have no choice and If the time or location of their branch’s meetings don’t work for them, members will be excluded from participation in decision making.
No consideration is given to the relationship of the State Branch with State Electorate Campaign Committees – wouldn’t these be replaced by the new State electorate Branch? Why will delegates to State Conference still be elected through FEAs when you could be certain of having a delegate from your own State Branch. At least there is a provision that will allow most existing country branches to continue.
Reduction in size of elected Admin Committee from 30 to 17 will make it very difficult for non-aligned members and small sub-factional groups to gain a voice in management of the Party.
Pre-selection Reform :The total disempowerment of members in the pre-selection of their local candidates using the POSC combined with the Stability Pact is ignored, withdrawal of members rights to participate in pre-selections as happened in Southern Metro Region is not addressed nor is the need to give ordinary branch members direct participation in selection of Senate candidates.
A disincentive to branch stacking: The dominance of representatives from the big stacked FEAs has for years prevented ordinary members, both factional and non-factional, from gaining State Conference positions – many submitters proposed that a maximum be placed on the number of delegates per FEA to reduce the influence of the stackers – not a mention of this option appeared in the Report.
Members expelled to date
Deloitte is conducting an audit of the membership roll to uncover the stacks. It was never going to be a simple task, especially during a COVID lockdown – it is pretty easy to know who the stacks almost certainly are, but far more difficult to conclusively prove it. To date it is reported that 1710 members have been expelled. It is well known that there are thousands more stacks than this! A handful of members who failed to respond to Party enquiries may have been unjustly expelled but there are processes to appeal those expulsions – such appeals should, in my view be through the internal Party processes, not through the media.
Summary of the Macklin/Bracks Recommendations
Joining the ALP in Victoria
Applicants will no longer join the Party through a local Branch. In the main, they will have to join online but people unable to join online will be able to apply using hard copy forms or by phone to State Office. Mandatory photo identity checks for all members when joining will be required as will be proof of eligibility for any concession membership (it is not spelt out how this will be done).
Central Branch will be abolished. Current Central Branch members to be immediately transferred to the, or a, local branch in their State electorate. It is not spelt out whether they are automatically eligible to vote or whether they will have to attend their branch to start their period of qualification.
Becoming a member of a local branch
State Office will automatically allocate new members to a branch within 4 weeks of them joining. State Office will contact the member to advise them of their branch and the date of their next meeting. There is no comment about advising the branch of their new member(s) although the current rules(not observed) require this.
Qualifying to vote in internal elections
New members must attend one branch meeting of their State electorate branch in their first 12 months of membership and will obtain voting rights 24 months after attending their first branch meeting. State Office will write to new members within 4 weeks of them attending their first branch meeting notifying them of the date from which their voting rights will accrue. (It is not clear when voting rights at branch level will start, presumably after their first attendance at a branch meeting) The recommendations are silent on what happens to new members who does not attend a branch meeting within 12 months of joining yet continue to pay their membership fees. There appears to be no attendance requirement for existing members.
20 member limit on number of voting qualifiers per State based branch meeting: The first 20 of those members seeking voting qualification to sign the attendance book at a branch meeting will begin accruing voting rights from that meeting. If there are more than 20 seeking qualification then the next 20 to sign would qualify at the next meeting (which they wouldn’t be required to attend) etc.
Secretary’s responsibility re attendance verification: The Branch Secretary would be required to send a photo of the attendance book to State Office within an hour of the meeting. The Bracklin Report recommends that branch secretaries who fail to meet these requirements more than twice in a calendar year be removed from their position.
Membership fees to be paid monthly, quarterly or annually through direct debit from the member’s personal bank account or credit card but members unable to pay by direct debit will be able to pay by personal cheque drawn from their own identified bank account (the renewal date for such members will be the anniversary of them joining). Members who fail to address a default on their direct debit payment within 6 months will have their membership discontinued. Payment via branch Executives will no longer be permitted.
Another family member living in the same household will still be able to be authorised to renew on a member’s behalf.
(Before these changes can take effect State Office will need to have the capacity to implement and maintain them using the new membership database).
Annual confirmation of membership details
State Office will write to members on their membership anniversary confirming their ongoing membership of the Party and asking them to update their membership details if there have been any changes to their address and entitlement to the membership rate claimed.
Important and significant changes to Local Branches
In smaller area (less than 1350 sq km) – usually city State electorates
The current local branches based on residence within a Federal electorate will be replaced with the requirement to be a member of a single branch for the State electorate in which they are enrolled or if not enrolled within the State electorate of their verified address. Where a single state electorate base branch has more than 300 active members or geography requires it the Admin Committee by a 75% affirmative vote may establish a second branch after evidence of need is presented.
Local Branches in bigger area (more than 1350 sq km) usually country State electorates
Although membership of a branch will be based on State electorate residence, current branches associated with regional towns will be able to continue to operate.
The commencement date for the start of the new local branches is not included in the Report.
Transfers between branches: All transfers are to be completed online and overseen by State Office, branches will no longer have a role in transfers. State Office will validate the information on the transfer form – if the transfer application is successful State Office would be expected to provide contact details for the new branch and in the event that there are multiple branches that the transferee could be a member of they would be offered a choice.
Online participation: The Report recommends that State Office(?) consider permitting local branches to utilize video conferencing to facilitate formal meetings, and that to improve member engagement local branches and State Office should conduct frequent online engagement events.
Cultural Branches: Current ethnic branches are recommended to be given the opportunity to apply to Admin to continue as a sub-branch of the relevant Victorian State Electorate based branch but would not have the status of a State based branch or be used to accrue voting rights.
Support from State Office It is recommended that State Office establishes a Membership Services and Engagement Division to support branch activities, support Policy Committees and their engagement with others, including branch members, promote engagement in branch activities including groups such as LEAN, Rainbow Labor etc.
Membership growth target A formal membership growth target of 20,000 members by December 2024 is recommended.
Compulsory photo ID for attendance voting in internal elections: Rules to be strengthened to mandate this.
Admin Committee size and Admin member proxies: It is recommended that the size of Admin be reduced from 30 elected members plus the 3 presidential officers to 17 elected members plus the 3 presidential officers. (The reduced size of Admin would change the quota for election to it from the current 19.5 to 33.7 making it very difficult for groups such as the Independents/Non-Aligned to gain a place on the Admin Committee)
At the start of their term each Admin member will be required to appoint one alternate member to act as a proxy if they are unable to attend.
The Admin Committee would have 3 Standing Sub-Committees – Finance, Risk and Audit: Membership – to oversee membership process including, standards, applications, recruitment and member services; Governance- to make recommendations re appointments to sub-committees and ensure good governance practice. Each sub-committee would have at least 3 Admin members and no more than 3 externally appointed members.
Administrative Committee reporting to members: The Admin Committee would be obliged to provide an annual report to members on membership matters such as the number of members and membership matters, provide members with a summary of the Party’s financial position, a report on the integrity of the membership roll and a summary of the Party Monitor’s integrity report.
Training: Governance training will be mandatory for incoming Admin Committee members, their alternate members and Party Officers Committee members and a Branch Executive training program introduced that includes the new membership rules and systems, Electoral Act compliance, branch functioning, standing orders and local activism. (Sadly utilizing the expertise of successful Branch Exec members and of the Labor Academy is not mentioned.)
Party Monitor (like an ombudsman): The Party Monitor will be appointed by a two-thirds resolution of Admin Committee (a 75% resolution as for Disputes Tribunal members would have given more certainty of a genuinely independent person filling this vital position).
The Party Monitor’s role will include consideration of complaints by members and making referrals to the Disputes Tribunal stemming from those complaints.
The Monitor will make an annual report to members relating to compliance with the rules including the functioning of the Administrative Committee and its sub-committees, undertake a review of the Party membership every 2 years and until 31 Dec 2025 report annually to members on the implementation of the Macklin-Bracks Report. The National Executive would appoint an inaugural Party Monitor to commence by 31 January 2021 for a term of at least 2 years.
Implementation, conclusion of administration, & transition to normal Party operations
Interim Governance Committee: It is recommended that the National Executive appoint a 4 person Interim Governance Committee, which will operate by consensus comprising the President and 3 other members of the Victorian Branch one of whom will be a current member of the National Executive. The Interim Governance Committee will act in place of the Administrative Committee will serve until a new Administrative Committee is elected at a State Conference.
It will also be responsible for:
- Organising FEA elections for State Conference delegates (given the change to State electorate branches why such delegates are not elected on a State electorate basis is not explained)
- Organising a State Conference
- Implementing the new membership database
- Reviewing and aligning the capacity of State Office with the recommendations of the Bracklin Report
- Reviewing and recommending changes to the membership fee structure (the new membership fees are recommended to be indexed).
Executive Officer: The National Exec will appoint an Executive Officer to Commence on 31 Jan 2021 to assist the Interim Governance Committee with the implementation of the Bracklin Report Recommendations. (The distinction between between the roles of the State Secretary and the Executive Officer is not explained).
Disputes Tribunal: The continuation of the newly adopted system of the appointment to the Disputes Tribunals of three people with legal qualifications such as retired barristers or judges is recommended.
The next State Conference and the election of its delegates It is recommended that the next State Conference be held between 1 Jan 2022 and 31 May 2022 and the rank and file State Conference delegates be elected no earlier than 1 Jan 2022. The 2002 State Conference would elect the Admin Committee, Party Officers, Agenda Committee and Rules Revision Committee. A new POSC will not be permitted to be elected by the State Conference delegates until 2023.
The tenure of the Administrators, Jenny and Steve, finishes on 31 Jan 2021.