Victorian Premier John Brumby’s promise to “clean up” the ALP is in tatters, after key proposals to reform party membership were rejected by the Premier’s factional backers ahead of tomorrow’s crucial State Conference.
In an email to supporters last night, the sponsor of the anti-branch stacking measures, Independents leader Eric Dearricott, said motions to abolish the yearly membership renewal deadline and stop branch executives paying for bulk memberships had been “discharged” by the right-dominated Rules Committee and are unlikely to be debated on State Conference floor.
The move will further inflame party tensions after it was revealed that a key recommendation stemming from the Victorian Ombudsman’s report into Brimbank Council — a ban on government advisers also working as local government Councillors — could also be struck down tomorrow by Labor right dissidents including former Andre Haermeyer adviser Garth Head. A last-minute Dearricott-sponsored urgency motion to implement the changes in 2010 was also sidelined after the Agenda Committee, headed by Head’s wife Rosemary Barker, rejected it.
“Things are not looking promising for those of us who believe that the way membership renewals are handled in the Victorian ALP is a disgrace to our Party and needs immediate restructure,” Dearricott said.
“We anticipated that there were likely to be platitudes of support but feigned concerns about the possible unforeseen consequences of people having to pay their membership renewals in the same way as the pay all of their other bills. We thought it possible that our proposals could be put off for years, whilst a special committee investigated the potential consequences.”
Dearricott, who famously let fly last week with a damning account of in-the-flesh branch stacking at ALP head office, said his changes would have capped the corruption that threatens to derail the ALP at next year’s state election.
Currently, membership renewals follow an antiquated system whereby bank cheques and wads of cash are ponied up to ALP head office before an annual May deadline. Dearricott’s proposals — to allow memberships to be paid like any other household bill and to stop factional heavies paying for memberships in bulk — have been backed by key party figures, including retiring Member for Brunswick Carlo Carli and former Premier John Cain. The Western Australian Branch of the ALP has already outlawed cash renewals.
But Brumby’s factional allies — the chief beneficiaries of bulk membership renewals — have remained eerily silent.
Both the ALP Rules Revision Committee and the Agenda Committee are dominated by members of Brumby’s ruling right faction, as are many of the key figures named in the Victorian Ombudsman’s report into Brimbank. Leading federal figures, including Stephen Conroy and Bill Shorten, have relied upon Brimbank identities to provide the raw numbers for their ascension into parliament.
Inside the Premier’s office, pressure is said to be mounting over the best response to the scandal, which has already stained Labor’s brand in its working class heartland. Insiders say Brumby must to be seen to be “doing something” with advisers suggesting he immediately “neck” State Secretary and former adviser Stephen Newnham.
Newnham has already flagged his departure but insiders say he is keen to leave on his own terms.
The climate at tomorrow’s conference is expected to be poisonous, despite a “stability pact” signed in January between the left and right factions, and the pre-emptive sidelining of Dearricott’s proposals. The right is yet to heal its own internal wounds after a vicious struggle for control of the Victorian branch of the Health Services Union erupted again last month. A fundraiser tonight for sacked HSU staff at a South Melbourne pub is looming as flashpoint for more factional turmoil that could well spill over onto the conference floor.
On the left the situation appears more stable. Crikey understands that the Pledge splinter group dominated by the vehicle builders union and headed Education Minister Bronwyn Pike has formally rejoined the bigger Socialist Left faction, bolstering its voting power.
Meanwhile, Dearricott will attempt to get bulk members signed up at the end of May struck off party rolls to push other proposals through the ALP disputes committee.
“We are not giving up… we will do all we can to seek justice for those members of the Party and the Unions who do pay their own memberships,” he said.