Senior members of the Victorian ALP’s Left faction have accused John Brumby’s ruling Right faction of hypocrisy over branch stacking, claiming that state and federal right-wing MPs rely on the stacks to stay in power.

Expressing their disgust over “old politicians handing down judgements from on high”, faction chiefs have reacted angrily to yesterday’s public outburst from party elder statesman Race Mathews, saying the Whitlam-era minister had pre-empted tomorrow night’s meeting of the party’s administrative committee by going public with his concerns.

Yesterday, Mathews told Crikey that branch stacking was a “tragedy” and that the party “had stood by and wasted 10 years” while the cancer within the party metastasised.

A leaked submission to the party’s special purpose branch stacking committee claims the state branch is locked into a “vicious downward spiral” and that the problem has assumed “crisis proportions”.

But senior Left sources say Mathews’ ruling Right faction was “swimming in stacks”, exploiting a loophole in party rules to establish a Macedonian branch in West Thomastown, comprising fake members whose memberships were paid by proxy.

After the Right-dominated state conference approved the branch in 2007, it was banned by a sub-committee of the ALP National Executive, with its members cast off into the ether.

The Left, who earlier this year negotiated a “stability pact” with their historical nemeses, also cite a decision to grant vigorous recruiter George Seitz dispensation before the party’s last round of pre-selections in 2006. Seitz was backed despite a party rule prohibiting over 65s from re-nominating.

Several federal MPs, including Bill Shorten and Stephen Conroy, have relied on Seitz-controlled members for their core support. But with the veteran MP’s influence fading as he prepares to depart state parliament, the push for renewal has been gaining ground.

Several rule changes at the party’s June state conference were designed to “clean out the stacks”, including renewed representation for minorities and a clarification of detailed membership rules.

On Facebook this morning, Mathews continued the pre-meeting offensive, claiming Crikey had misquoted him over the number of anti-branch stacking petitions submitted by the Higgins FEA. On Monday, he revealed that he had already met with the special purpose committee to discuss tactics before tomorrow night’s showdown.

While the factions feud, the Hawthorn branch’s submission to the stacking committee has revealed some troubling data pointing to the core of the problem.

In some safe federal Liberal seats, including Higgins and Kooyong, the number of ALP members dwarf those in Labor-held marginals including Deakin, Corrangamite, Ballarat and Bendigo, which are believed to contain about 150 members each.

The safest ALP electorates including Scullin, Gorton, Batman, Calwell, Wills, Maribyrnong, Melbourne and Melbourne Ports have total memberships estimated to range between 600 and 1000, suggesting higher memberships correlate directly with pre-selection power grabs.

Tomorrow night’s meeting is expected to be fiery. Insiders have told Crikey that the fight within the right over who will replace ditched State Secretary Stephen Newnham is far from resolved, with a tranche of late money flowing for Right apparatchik Noah Carroll.

The pro-Carroll push is led by Unity figures keen to prevent John Brumby installing his preferred candidate, Nick Reece, amid concerns over the rise of a so-called “Premier’s faction”.

With the inner-workings of the ALP opaque to all but small clique of insiders, it is believed Brumby is keen to seize control of internal processes to prevent any further public embarrassments.

Peter Fray

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