News What’s the damage? Jury still out as fears of branch-stacking saga spread

What’s the damage? Jury still out as fears of branch-stacking saga spread

Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews front the media outside Parliament House in Melbourne on Tuesday. Photo: AAP
Twitter Facebook Reddit Pinterest Email

The November 2018 Victorian state election stands as a cautionary tale for those wanting to make doom-laden predictions flowing from the industrial-scale branch stacking scandal moving like a wrecking ball through Daniel Andrews’ second-term government.

With a one-seat majority, the Andrews government was seen as a risk when that election was held.

A scandal involving MPs’ staffers doing party political work during the previous election campaign was swirling throughout most of the year leading up to the 2018 poll, with police raids of homes and offices, and suggestions that up to 21 Labor parliamentarians might have broken the law.

Labor ended up being untroubled by these frightening events.

The ALP secured a swing of almost 5 per cent and picked up an extra eight seats.

If voters had concerns about dodgy behaviour by Labor staffers, they were at least secondary to who might be best to run Victoria.

We don’t know how the Adem Somyurek branch rorting allegations will play out, but we shouldn’t jump to conclusions about whether voters will automatically condemn a government over what goes on inside a particular political party.

What we do know is that branch stacking is the rort that won’t go away for the Labor Party.

While all parties suffer from what’s often referred to as enthusiastic membership recruitment, it has a long and usually sordid history in the Labor Party.

The activities and comments of Mr Somyurek – now a sacked minister who jettisoned his Labor membership just hours before he was hounded out of the party – demonstrate how pernicious and corrupting branch stacking is.

A boastful, power-obsessed individual who measures his political contribution by who he hates and who he can own for selfish reasons, the damage Mr Somyurek has done to the ALP still has some way to go.

Mr Andrews is using his skill as someone who acts quickly and decisively, tossing Mr Somyurek to the wolves and demanding anyone else involved in any branch stacking hands in their ministerial commissions.

The Premier will hope he can isolate the fallout and there will not be any factional payback from those who remain close to the disgraced branch-stacking mastermind.

This will doubtless be easier said than done and the Victorian Premier will welcome intervention by the ALP’s federal executive and its moves to clean up the membership rolls and fend off any threats to preselections.

Given that an estimated one-quarter of the 16,000 branch members in Victoria could be the product of Mr Somyurek’s “industrial-scale” stacking, the federal party is going to have a Herculean task ahead of it.

The review of the Victorian branch by party elders, Steve Bracks and Jenny Macklin, will need to be rigorous and unconditional.

Any suggestion of a whitewash would render the exercise next to meaningless.

The other Labor leader sweating on how this plays out is federal leader Anthony Albanese, facing his first big electoral test on the first Saturday in July, when electors in the south-eastern New South Wales seat of Eden-Monaro vote in a by-election.

For Mr Albanese – who is trying to stop Scott Morrison from becoming the first prime minister in 100 years to take a seat from an Opposition at a by-election – the stakes are high.

Mr Albanese has been sidelined during the COVID-19 pandemic twin health and economic crises, watching as Mr Morrison rebuilds his standing and reputation through deft handling of the fast-moving and unprecedented series of events.

The Somyurek affair has damaged Labor’s image, at least confirming the low opinion voters have of political parties and possibly tarnishing the ALP as having systemic problems with a corrupt culture.

It’s clear federal Labor is worried about the possible fallout of the Somyurek stacking scandal.

During the weekly Caucus meeting in Canberra on Tuesday, no one mentioned it in any reports and no one asked Mr Albanese a question about any of it.