ALP party elder Race Mathews has called for the resignation of Garth Head and Liz Beattie, the two-person committee appointed to investigate alleged membership abuses in the Victorian ALP.
Mathews has said that the process is hopeless compromised, and that the scandal is, for Labor, “reminiscent of Watergate”. He has urged both Head and Beattie, members of the state Right and Left, respectively, to stand down, “and save your own reputations”.
Mathews, a veteran of more than a half-century of party battles and reform, has been both a federal and state MP and was chief of staff to Gough Whitlam. In the 1990s he revived the Fabian Society in order to rebuild the process of generating ideas and policy within Labor. More recently he has been leading a campaign to revive the importance of branches within Labor.
The “giftcard-gate” scandal has consumed Labor in recent weeks, following revelations that figures associated with Opposition Leader Bill Shorten’s dominant “Shortcon” faction had been paying for thousands of party memberships using one-time, non-traceable gift credit cards, available for non-documented sale. The revelations follow years of exposure by ALP member Eric Dearricott of branch-stacking on a vast scale.
Calls by many inside the party for a fully independent, hands-off inquiry into the scandal were headed off by the party centre, who appointed Head and Beattie, long-term hardcore members of their respective factions, to oversee an inquiry. The appointments come at the same time as the re-signing of the Victorian “stability pact” between Left and Right, as reported in Crikey two weeks ago.
Further moves were made to prevent party accountability and openness, Mathews notes, with the banning of members of the Administrative Committee’s Membership Administration Subcommittee from accessing party records, a move clearly designed to frustrate further exposures of deep unethical, and possibly illegal, factional fighting within the party.
The revelations — and Mathews calls for the existing process to be abandoned — come days after Bill Shorten was “cleared” by the trade union royal commission, whose highly political character appeared to be confirmed by the fact that a press release announcing such was released last week on Friday night. However the TURC established that Shorten’s union had taken one-off payments from companies they were negotiating with, and had the salaries of campaigning officers paid for by such corporations.
Further scandal could have a disastrous effect on Labor’s chances in the 2016 election.
Mathews concluded: “The money trail must be pursued until the perpetrators of the scam and their protectors are identified, called to account and appropriately penalised through measures including expulsion from the party.”