Adem Somyurek
Adem Somyurek (Image: AAP/Julian Smith)

So Victorian Labor minister Adem Somyurek has been sacked from Daniel Andrews’ cabinet, following a Nine exposé revealing apparent systematic branch-stacking and an array of abusive remarks about colleagues and Labor figures.

Somyurek declared he was only quitting for “inappropriate language” — language that included calling a female colleague a “stupid moll” and “psycho bitch” whose head he was going to “fucking knock off”, and referring to Young Labor members as “slimy little fuckers, little passive-aggressive fucking gay kids”.

Andrews made it clear Somyurek was sacked, described his comments as “unacceptable”, referred him to Victoria’s anti-corruption commission and police and is pushing for his expulsion from the ALP.

The remarks, and evidence of branch-stacking, were all filmed or recorded — possibly illegally — but the publication by Nine’s 60 Minutes and The Age was certainly in the public interest.

As should always be noted with fallen Labor powerbrokers, we shall most assuredly look upon his like again.

Somyurek is the product of an outsourced political system, in which the community has left the formal mechanisms of government to a class of professional politicians. In turn, those politicians have constructed a self-perpetuating system that means even political parties with miniscule memberships can run the country and become hundred-million-dollar, self-regulating entities.

Under that system, the established parties, despite having little broad appeal, obtain a generous flow of taxpayer funding by paying themselves for each primary vote and making voting compulsory. Preferential voting also makes it harder for voters to express disapproval of the major parties through the ballot box, with large numbers of primary votes cast for minor parties flowing back to major party candidates.

Political donations for the opportunity to exercise influence over policy, for both business and trade unions, provide additional revenue.

In this system, an active, organic party membership of any size is problematic for party executives. In addition to the problem common across all political parties, that the membership is more radical than the parliamentary wing — often embarrassingly so — a large and active grassroots membership is usually hostile to top-down control.

That’s mainly expressed in the form of resisting direction on candidate preselection, because preselection is one of the few things party memberships have a significant role in. A small, less active membership is more easily controlled, if necessary by stacking small branches.

It is a system guaranteed to produce “factional powerbrokers” trying to control branches for personal or factional reasons, and it produces them in both major parties, although because Labor has a more formalised faction system, reporting on it is easier.

It’s been observed for some years that Labor’s factions have become unmoored from ideology, with personalities often looming larger than key policy issues. That’s best illustrated by the rank corruption of the NSW ALP, a party where factional conflict between right and left in the 1970s meant very real fights over communist influence and the fundamentals of economic policy.

Since the end of the Cold War and Labor’s embrace of market economics underpinned by a social wage, factions have increasingly become vehicles for the personal benefit of senior figures — most notoriously Eddie Obeid — with only occasional expeditions into ideological division over social, rather than economic, issues.

That has also tended to mean key powerbrokers have not been overly interested in policy substance, although until recent years Victoria has been something of an exception — despite being labelled (by Robert Ray!) as “factional Daleks”, Kim Carr is a long-term advocate of interventionist industry policy, while Stephen Conroy was a policy wonk as much as a Right chieftain, particularly in communications.

Andrews, insistent that he sacked Somyurek rather than let him resign, now says he wants the man he invited back in after a 2015 resignation to be booted out of the ALP altogether.

That may set the scene for some extended litigation. But even if Somyurek is booted out, the system will throw up another version of him in the future.

That’s unless, remarkably, the community opts to in-source government again and creates a new era of mass-membership political parties.

Peter Fray

Help us keep up the fight

Get Crikey for just $1 a week and support our journalists’ important work of uncovering the hypocrisies that infest our corridors of power.

If you haven’t joined us yet, subscribe today and get your first 12 weeks for $12.

Cancel anytime.

Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey

JOIN NOW