“Draconian and unfair powers” were used to slap Victorian Labor MP Marlene Kairouz with an invalid charge of branch stacking, her lawyer claims.
Ms Kairouz has taken her party to Victoria’s Supreme Court, seeking the charges against her be declared null and void, and an injunction to stop a party disputes tribunal hearing from going ahead.
Federal Labor last year took over the state branch and endorsed an audit by party stalwarts Steve Bracks and Jenny Macklin.
They looked into allegations sacked minister Adem Somyurek handed over cash and used parliamentary employees to create fake branch members and amass political influence.
It was alleged staff in Ms Kairouz’s office and that of Robin Scott were involved in branch stacking.
This involves recruiting or signing up members to a local political party branch to influence the outcome of candidate preselections for parliament.
Acting for Ms Kairouz, John Karkar QC told Justice Timothy Ginnane on Wednesday the ALP’s national executive didn’t have the power to interfere with the state branch.
He argued this meant the appointment of administrators to the state branch last year was invalid.
“It is a huge step … to suspend the governance of the state branch,” Mr Karkar said.
He also said it meant the rules under which Ms Kairouz was charged, and charges themselves, were invalid too.
Documents filed on behalf of Ms Kairouz, who last year resigned from cabinet, showed the party’s national executive amended the definition of branch stacking in September 2020.
Mr Karkar argued this wasn’t retrospective and so couldn’t be applied to allegations Ms Kairouz engaged in branch stacking on or before March 10 last year.
He added the rules were changed so a member was presumed to have engaged in branch stacking unless they satisfied the disputes tribunal otherwise.
Mr Karkar said these were “draconian and unfair powers”.
“There’s a presumption of guilt in relation to an expended definition of branch stacking,” he told the court.
Peter Willis QC – representing Labor figures including Mr Bracks, Ms Macklin and federal Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese – urged the court to scrap Ms Kairouz’s application.
He said her alleged conduct would have contravened the party’s previous branch stacking rules anyway.
“It’s not that something completely legal before has been deemed illegal. There was an existing rule (about branch stacking),” Mr Willis said.
He also questioned what of Ms Kairouz’s legal interests were meant to have been threatened, and said the disputes tribunal was able to determine the validity of its own hearing.
The Labor party previously granted Ms Kairouz an extension until March 8 to respond to the charges against her.
A date for the tribunal hearing has not been set.
The Supreme Court application is due to continue on Thursday.