Last night’s Four Corners expose of branch-stacking in the NSW Liberal Party was a “credit to the Four Corners
journalists” but it didn’t spill all the beans, says John Hyde Page,
former Young Liberal, one-time political staffer and author of the new
book The Education of a Young Liberal.

The program
picked up on the “general texture of intimidation and latent physical
violence” of the right faction’s branch-stacking activities, he says,
but it didn’t fully spell out the fact that the “use of intimidation and violence” by
the right faction to sway voting is often “premeditated”.

And he
claims some allegations were omitted – such as the claim that when Alex
Hawke was elected president of the Young Liberals for the second time a
number of the ballots submitted for him were forgeries.

As for
that infamous meeting of the Bankstown Young Liberals in May 2004 which
turned violent, there’s some evidence to suggest the possibility that
when factional heavyweight David Clarke learnt that the right faction
didn’t have the numbers, he left the parliament sitting without
permission and came to the meeting and started directing members of the
right-wing, says Hyde Page.

Within the Liberal Party there are
“numerous pockets of criminality”, says Hyde Page. I would “often see
things” like the forgery of signatures on membership forms, untruthful
statutory declarations and forgery on party instruments.

And, he
asserts, the misuse of government resources to fund this activity is
rife. It’s often said that when the Liberal Party controlled state
government, government cab charges would be used to ferry stacks around
to meetings. This is just one example of a number of different ways in
which taxpayer money was misappropriated for factional reasons, says
Hyde Page.

So what’s the way forward? Firstly, the Liberal Party
needs more “real members”, says Hyde Page. But more importantly, the
role of paid ministerial staffers and parliamentary staffers needs to
be reassessed. At the moment, some of them “spend almost all of their
time involved in factional activity”, making sure branches are in line,
stacking branches, etc. To stop this, we could simply “make it unlawful
for people on the public payroll to be involved in branch politics”
After all they should be doing the “work of the people, not the work of
the faction”.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey