Australian Labor Party Promises to ‘Root Out’ Branch-Stacking Practices, Which Have Happened Before

June 17, 2020 Updated: June 18, 2020

The Australian Labor Party (ALP) is actively seeking to clean up its state branches after allegations of branch-stacking in the Victorian Labor Party came to light on June 14.

Federal President of the ALP Wayne Swan told the ABC on June 17 that the ALP will respond to these reports with the “strongest possible action.”

“We’ll leave no stone unturned to root out these sorts of practices,” he said.

“Every member will be audited to assess whether they are genuine supporters who have paid their own fees and consented to join,” said Swan.

The statements by Swan come after allegations of branch-staking appeared on Channel Nine’s 60 Minutes program on June 14 and in The Age newspaper on June 15.

In the joint report, it was alleged that former Victorian ALP minister Adem Somyurek utilised parliamentary staffers from other ministers to branch-stack districts of the Victorian Labor Party and in doing so strengthen Somyurek’s influence over the ALP.

The Age on June 15 said that Somyurek estimated he controlled two-thirds of the Victorian Labor Party’s 16,000 members after his branch-stacking efforts.

Victorian Review to be Headed by Bracks and Macklin

Speaking at a press conference aired by Sky News on June 17, Premier Daniel Andrews said that he had put an “unprecedented plan” to the national executive of the ALP “to re-establish the integrity of the Victorian branch of the Labor Party.”

“We need to go through a process where each and every rank and file member re-establishes that they are genuine consenting and self-funded members of our great party,” said Andrews.

The National Executive of the ALP has suspended all committees of the Victorian Labor Party and appointed former Labor Victorian Premier Steve Bracks and former federal ALP deputy leader Jenny Macklin to audit the Victorian Branch of the ALP.

A draft of an internal ALP document leaked and posted on Reddit on June 16 said Bracks and Macklin are to produce a preliminary report of their findings by July 31, with their complete report due to be submitted on January 1, 2021.

Speaking to the ABC, Wayne Swan said that the national wing of the ALP will also take over control of the selection of candidates for the next Victorian poll and the Victorian candidates for the next federal election.

However, Swan does not see this as a permanent solution. “It’s to get local participation, to enhance it, to eradicate the branch stackers and to give bona fide members a say again in their party,” said Swan.

New South Wales Labor Party also Undergoes Review

The New South Wales (NSW) branch of the ALP will also undergo an audit it has emerged.

The Australian reported on June 16 that the NSW Labor Party would also begin a review of their membership to check for branch-stacking.

According to the leaked ALP report obtained by The Australian, members in the districts of Granville, South Granville, Merrylands, Guildford, and Guildford West will have to resubmit their home addresses and meeting attendance records in the audit.

The report dated May 28 also recommended: “A 12-month amnesty against expulsion or suspension for members who come forward with honest and direct evidence about the falsification of branch records.”

Branch-Stacking a Problem for the ALP

This is not the first time branch-stacking has been a problem for the ALP. In 2002 a report (pdf) by former Prime Minister Bob Hawke and former NSW Premier Neville Wran argued that branch-stacking has a “cancerous effect” on the democratic traditions of the Labor Party and was a major concern to party members.

Utilised by politicians as a way to gain power within the party, branch-stacking is when political actors sign up large numbers of people they know have no actual interest in joining to their political party.

Once complete, branch-stacking then provides a politician with votes that can be used to influence both state and national policy directions through internal party votes and the preselection of electoral candidates.

Although branch-stacking is legal in Australia, most political parties have come to view the practice as controversial because it usually involves illegal acts of forgery, falsification of documentation, and even the intimidation of party members.