PREMIER John Brumby is under pressure to enforce a shake-up of the Victorian ALP before next year's state election, with Labor insiders warning that the party is riddled with branch-stacking and corruption.
Internal ALP documents obtained by The Age show party figures telling head office that Victorian Labor has a "seedy reputation" and a culture of "intimidation, bullying and secrecy".
The ALP's Independents faction says more than half of the party's 13,000 members are "stacks", and activists have circulated a petition calling for a committee of inquiry headed by a party elder such as former premier Steve Bracks to clean up the state branch.
The internal uprising was prompted by a scathing Ombudsman's report in early May on the activities of the Labor-dominated Brimbank City Council, and revelations of widespread rorting of ALP rules during "membership renewal deadline day" in late May.
Mr Brumby, who is preparing to recast his campaign team at head office before next year's November election, supports change. His spokesman, George Svigos, said last night: "The Premier has made his views clear about the importance of party reform and breathing new life into party branches. He believes it is positive that a range of proposals are coming forward for reform."
Many Labor insiders believe a clean-out is urgently needed. In submissions to a cross-factional committee that is reviewing party membership rules:
- The secretary of the Independents, Eric Dearricott, accuses factional warlords of "destroying democracy within the Victorian ALP" and says head office officials have not tried to eliminate branch-stacking.
- The Hawthorn branch says the party has earned a "seedy reputation" because of ethnic branch-stacking and other corrupt behaviour.
- The Upper Yarra branch says the Brimbank scandal is "the tip of a very ugly iceberg" and warns: "If we cannot manage the state branch with honesty, we cannot be expected to manage government with integrity."
Mr Dearricott writes: "Even though the identity of the [branch] stackers is well known, no effort has been made to expose them and a blind eye is turned to corrupt membership recruitment and renewal practices."
In a four-page submission, he says: "From many years of observations and analysis on the memberships committee, I am sure that more than 50 per cent of applicants and members are stacks."
Mr Dearricott calls for the appointment of a party ombudsman to root out corruption and ensure the ALP does not continue down the road of becoming "a party of professional politicians and apparatchiks motivated more by power than by principle".
"The disparity between the principles of transparency, democracy and involvement which our party has always advocated for our state and our nation, and the way the ALP in Victorian operates internally, could hardly be greater," he writes.
The Hawthorn branch says in a 10-page submission: "Without basic reforms to re-establish the ALP's democratic credentials, the idea of a large recruitment drive for new 'genuine' members to swamp the branch-stackers has little prospect of success."
It says the "intimidation, bullying and secrecy" that accompany corrupt behaviour have led to "a distortion of the prevailing culture of the party".
The cross-factional committee on membership rules, established at the June state conference, is expected to present a report to the administrative committee on Thursday night. Sources said the authors wanted to "chart a path towards a growing, activist party".
Mr Brumby, signalling his support for a change in approach at head office, said Labor state secretary Stephen Newnham would soon move on.
"I think it's important to have [a state secretary] who's going to be listening to the Labor Party branches, who wants to see new membership across the state and who wants to inject new energy into debates and policy discussions across the party," Mr Brumby said on August 14.
Last week, he said he had always been "a strong believer in a vibrant and open ALP".
"I hope that we can make some changes across the party to breathe new life, particularly into membership and branches. I think that is such an important element of a healthy democracy," he said. "I remember when I first joined the Labor Party, back in the 1970s, you attended branch meetings and you contributed to debate about public issues, and that's what I'd like to see again."
Mr Newnham yesterday said he did not comment on internal party matters.
A petition originating from the ALP's Higgins federal electorate assembly calls on the administrative committee to immediately appoint "a member of appropriate stature and experience", such as Mr Bracks or former deputy premier John Thwaites, to review and report on membership retention and recruitment issues.
It says the party has failed to retain and attract members, and proposes the creation of a membership development division.
Labor sources say the petition has attracted hundreds of signatures.
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