The stacks continue. Extensive and apparently systemic rorting of ALP membership rules have rolled on, despite the Brimbank scandal and the spotlight on George Seitz’s activities within the Victorian ALP. Two non-aligned ALP figures have revealed that as recently as last Friday, there was widespread and blatant violations of ALP membership guidelines as the party’s deadline for membership renewal neared. Eric Dearricott, the Secretary of the party’s weak-on-numbers but strong-on-morals Independents group, and offsider John Lannan attended ALP head office in King Street and provided a scathing account to colleagues of what they observed, including bulk payments, frequent breaches of payment guidelines and inconsistent application of the party’s rules ostensibly intended to prevent branch-stacking.

Dearricott and Lannan will now seek to challenge renewals that were non-compliant with party rules, which astonishingly formed the majority of the renewals made on the day at ALP Head Office.

Party insiders say there is now immense pressure on Premier John Brumby to conduct fully-fledged purge of all party stacks, after previous probes went nowhere. The Opposition is expected to hammer Brumby and the government over the report in Question Time today, with frantic Liberal staffers preparing questions as Crikey’s deadline approached. The curious can listen to the carnage unfold here, from 2pm.

Membership renewal deadline day at 360 King St – No wonder there are Brimbanks

You would have thought that given the Brimbank scandal everyone in the Victorian ALP would have ensured their membership renewals were squeaky clean.

Not so! On May 29 there were far more dubious renewals than straightforward ones.

Hundreds of payments were made contrary to the letter and/or intent of Victorian ALP Rules and Administrative Committee resolutions laying down the requirements for bulk renewals of memberships.

The rules require that members personally pay their own membership either direct to State Head Office or they may pay their renewal fee to one of their Local Branch Executive members and the Branch Executive then submit the forms and payments from their Branch in bulk to Head Office. These rules were introduced to combat the practice of those involved in branch stacking of paying the membership fees of their ‘stacks’.

On deadline day a lot of bulk renewals were made at Head Office but only a handful were lodged by local Branch Executive members – more were lodged by factional operatives or, contrary to the Guidelines, Head Office staff members.

Fellow Independent John Lannan and I attended Head Office on deadline day as observers. Below is a summary of what we saw and discovered:

People who were not local branch executive members, with no evidence that they were even representing local branches lodged bulk renewals. Some of these (including a person prominently featured in the Ombudsman’s Brimbank Report) sat at the back of the room and filled branch payment summary forms and then presented them and the associated renewal forms at the receiving tables.

· In one case a person having filled out the branch summary form (for an FEA that was not his own) in the room at Head Office, tried to pay for the memberships with his own personal credit card. When he was refused permission to do this he went off and later returned with a bank cheque to cover the membership renewals he then successfully lodged.

· There is a $500 limit on cash bulk renewal payments of $500 per branch per day. In one case a Head Office Staff member, with no apparent evidence of authorisation from a branch tried to present two bulk payments apparently from the same Branch of just under $500. When we questioned this, contrary to the Admin Committee guidelines the Staff member lodged one lot but took the other away with her. She didn’t return but it is not clear whether the remaining batch was lodged by someone else. In several other cases we believed that cash payments in excess of the $500 limit per branch were made on the day. Even more disturbing cash payments for branch batches each in excess of the $500 limit were received on the deadline day but not in the upstairs area where all bulk Branch payments were designated to be lodged. It is understood that the payments were from 5 or 6 different branches and totalled more than $6000.

· A woman, who does not appear to be a member of the Party brought in more than $1000 worth of membership renewal forms, each having an envelope of money attached. There was a list of the members being paid for on a sheet but no indication that it was a set of renewals from a branch nor did the woman lodging the renewals claim it was. Initially the name of the person lodging the renewals was not on the summary sheet. It was added.

· A Union member brought in renewal forms and filled in a branch payment summary form and paid cash for 6 of his fellow union members, 4 of whom were Central members who under the rules cannot renew via the branch bulk payment method. Nor under the rules is there means via which members can renew their Party membership in cash via their union.

· Some of the Branch Summary forms brought in by Head office staff and others had no indication of which Branch and which Branch Executive member had given them the renewals to lodge. Some were listed as returns from FEAs not Branches.

· One well known electorate officer brought in 7 bulky folders presumably from 7 different branches. Payment for each batch appeared to have been made using a bank cheque – not as required in the guidelines a cheque from the Branch’s own official account. Indeed the guidelines do not appear to permit bank cheques (which allow the purchaser to conceal their identity) as a means of payment of branch bulk renewals. Nevertheless bank cheques were regularly presented as payment for bulk renewals on Friday.

· Earlier last week a single bank cheque well in excess of $6000 had been presented to pay for a set of bulk Branch renewals. The 2004/5 Gorton Branch Stacking enquiry had revealed many anonymous bank cheques used for bulk renewals accompanied by payment summary forms that had no indication of who had lodged them. One was in excess of $10,000.

John and I intend to take these and other irregularities we observed on Friday to the Disputes Tribunal with a view to having those renewals not lodged within the rules and guidelines disallowed. We will lodge our dispute later this week.

Post Script It is to the credit of the Party that John and I were allowed to observe the process of the renewals of May 29. We sat away from the receiving tables and did not invade the privacy of those lodging the renewals. Although we believe that many of the renewals were invalidly lodged the receiving staff and officials, sadly, were simply following practices that have become the norm over recent years.

Rules Change Proposals

Among the several Rules change proposals submitted by Independents for the June 13 State Conference are two that go to the heart of the irregularities we observed on Friday. One removes the option of members paying their renewals through branches and therefore eliminates bulk renewals. The other designates the renewal date for each member as the anniversary of their effective joining date, meaning that there will be no renewal deadline day but membership renewals throughout the year. Between them these reforms would make it much much more difficult for potential stackers to pay the fees of others.

Let us hope for the good of the Party they are adopted!

Eric Dearricott

(Secretary Vic ALP Independents)