A leading Victorian ALP elder statesman has condemned the party’s sclerotic processes for processing membership applications, increasing pressure on Premier John Brumby to appoint a membership czar to clean out stacked branches.

In a speech to an internal seminar in the Higgins federal electorate assembly on 9 August, an account of which has been obtained by Crikey, former Cain government cabinet minister Race Mathews revealed that some genuine members had their membership applications delayed for up to two years.

In an indictment of the party’s legendary factional feuding, Mathews said entrenched interests had blocked swathes of legitimate applications. Administrative blunders and incompetence were also to blame.

Under internal ALP party rules, applications for membership are required to be processed by both the local branch and a membership sub-committee of the Administrative Committee, which was until recently controlled by the party’s right.

A protocol that membership applications be addressed within one month has only recently been reprised, Mathews said.

In a stinging assessment of the state party, Mathews told the meeting young members would continue to abandon the ALP in droves without a massive reform effort. Online social networking sites such Facebook and Twitter could be utilised in revitalised grassroots push, Mathews said.

The meeting heard that the cancer of branch stacking continued to infect the party — 70% of delegates to state conference came from 40% of electorates, usually those dominated by ethnic warlords.

One proposal to iron out branch stacking was to reduce barriers to membership by slashing annual fees, a proposal that could cost the state branch revenue.

The membership renewal process also came under the spotlight. Mathews said renewals should be submitted by the member in question, to avoid a repeat of this year’s notorious deadline day debacle, where notorious figures named in the Victorian Ombudsman’s report into Brimbank council, including Hakki Suleyman, oversaw the delivery of local stacks, as revealed by Crikey.

Mathews, who is factionally aligned to the right of the party, cited the 1998 Dreyfus report into the Victorian branch, a 2002 national review conducted by Bob Hawke and Neville Wran, and a 2005 review of the Victorian state branch as documents that require urgent revisiting.

Key proposals of the Dreyfus report, including online and formal university branches, need to be acted on now, Mathews told the Higgins meeting.

Other delegates called for a charter of members rights and an independent ombudsman to monitor renewals.

They described “an enormous sense of frustration that the party is controlled by a small clique who want to keep the party small”, with dissidents calling on the factions to be abolished outright.

Thousands of delegates from Victorian ALP branches, including Mathews’ Prahran branch, have signed a petition calling for the appointment of a party elder to crack down on rorts, although there remains concern that a stacks ban would cripple the voting power of John Brumby’s ruling right faction, leading to windfall gains for the Left.

The petition was closed before the 9 August meeting, but it is believed hundreds more of the state’s 6,500 non-stacked members would have signed if given the chance.

Mathews told Crikey this morning that the party should be urgently “opened up” so that the party could “go for growth”.

“We’ve just stood by and wasted 10 years”, Matthews said, claiming several enquiries had been left to gather dust.

“The tragedy is that we have visited this issue three times over the last decade and know how to fix things.”

Meanwhile, the Independent faction leader Eric Dearricott-initiated special purpose review into branch stacking has been receiving submissions, according to reports. Mathews told Crikey his Higgins FEA had also filed a submission, but it was yet to be formally considered.

Peter Fray

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