AUSTRALIAN LABOR PARTY: by Peter WestmoreNews Weekly
Behind the branch-stacking allegations
, June 4, 2005
At least seven federal Labor MPs are under threat of losing preselection for their seats.Throughout its history, the factions within the Australian Labor Party have sought power by enrolling members in branches, so as to secure the election of delegates to ALP conferences and win ALP preselection for parliamentary seats.
These time-honoured tactics were taken to a new low in the 1950s, when the far left permitted non-members to attend and vote at ALP Conferences in defiance of the party rules, to expel their ALP Industrial Group opponents, particularly in Victoria.
Since then, the left has systematically enrolled members of left-controlled unions into party branches, and later enrolled large numbers of ethnic members, and even permitted the establishment of "ethnic branches" where meetings were conducted in languages such as Arabic, Greek, Italian and Turkish.
Once the rules had been established to permit branch-stacking, it was inevitable that everyone else in the party would employ the same tactics.
With the end of the Cold War, the old left-right divisions are a thing of the past. But still the factions exist, still controlling preselections of Labor candidates to safe Labor seats and, ultimately, both state and federal Labor politicians.Second-rate MPs
Labor's leaders are well aware that the effect of this is to promote loyal but second-rate people into state and federal parliament. In 2002, two former ALP presidents, Bob Hawke and Neville Wran, called for the disbanding of the factions, because they had effectively locked up the preselection process.
"This drastically reduces local input and creates a situation where candidates are rewarded for their service to a faction rather that for their community links, perceived ability to win the seat, or their potential to make a positive contribution to the parliamentary party," they argued.
The power of vested interests, however, defeated them, and the role of the factions is unchanged. With the decline of the left, some of the Labor Socialist Left faction's MPs are now vulnerable to preselection challenges.
So the Socialist Left poachers have turned game-keepers, and are now demanding an end to "branch-stacking" in the party!
At the recent ALP state conference in Victoria, the Socialist Left faction organised a rally outside the conference against branch-stacking, and inside, left-wing delegates heckled the Victorian Premier, Steve Bracks, who is a member of the Labor Unity faction, demanding that he act on allegations of widespread branch-stacking by Labor Unity in Victoria.
The Socialist Left's Brian Daley, currently Victorian ALP President, said Bracks' image as a clean politician was in jeopardy if he did not take action to end branch-stacking.
The conference descended into near chaos, with ugly scenes of abuse being traded across the floor of the meeting. The object, apparently, was to threaten Bracks with continual bad publicity in the run-up to the next election, unless the left's threatened candidates were left untouched.
At least seven federal Labor MPs are under threat of losing preselection for their seats in forthcoming preselection battles.