News Politics More than 150 members booted from Victorian Liberal Party after branch-stacking probe

More than 150 members booted from Victorian Liberal Party after branch-stacking probe

The report found 59 instances of "warehousing" in the seat of Deakin, held by Michael Sukkar. Photo: ABC News/Matt Roberts
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More than 150 members of the Victorian Liberal Party are set to be expelled after a branch-stacking investigation found they did not pay for their own membership fees.

The investigation, conducted by forensic accountants KordaMentha, has revealed 170 memberships were paid for by another person’s credit card, which is against party rules.

The probe threatens to further inflame internal party tensions, with some senior figures expressing anger at the expense of hundreds of thousands of dollars on an audit that only found 170 irregularities out of 12,000 members.

Others say the audit has not gone far enough.

The report has also discovered a high number of “unexplained” instances where party membership records were accessed after hours.

It revealed one Liberal Party staffer’s login was used to access the records more than 1237 times between 2017 and 2018.

“These findings reinforce the concern that party membership details may have been downloaded and used improperly and false entries may have been made in party membership records,” state party president Robert Clark said in an email to party members.

The review also revealed 222 instances of “warehousing” where members join the party through one electorate and are then moved to another within six months, even if their addresses do not change.

Fifty-nine of those were in the seat of Deakin which is held by Federal Member and Assistant Treasurer Michael Sukkar.

“At best, it is a deliberate circumvention of the Party’s constitutional provisions,” Mr Clark said.

“At worst it is a form of ‘branch stacking’ to gain votes through bringing persons into the party who are unsuitable to be members and are not joining with a genuine commitment to the party.”

Many in party frustrated with Mr Clark’s handling of issue

Mr Clark said the findings were concerning and the party had paid a heavy price for what had taken place.

“The findings point to serious breakdowns in standards and good governance within the party’s operations during the 2017-18 period, which were exploited for what many would regard as ‘factional’ purposes,” Mr Clark wrote.

There are many in the party frustrated with Mr Clark’s handling of the issue, with some viewing the whole saga as a test of Opposition Leader Michael O’Brien leadership given his relationship with Mr Clark.

Mr Clark said addressing the issues identified in the report would require substantial constitutional changes, which would be considered by the administrative committee.

“Amendments are needed in particular to remove incentives for unacceptable recruitment practices and to enable misconduct by party members to be dealt with more quickly, effectively and independently,” he said.

The report made a range of recommendations including a requirement of photo identification and signatures for new members to be made online and prohibiting the sharing of login details.

Former factional figure Marcus Bastiaan, who quit the party after being at the centre of some branch-stacking allegations, said the audit had found nothing against him.

“KordaMentha’s enquiry found no evidence that I or the Membership and Training Committee breached the Liberal Party’s constitution. I am pleased but not surprised to be cleared of all branch stacking allegations,” Mr Bastiaan said.

“Anxieties of growing Liberal Party membership should not be justification for rejecting new members, and I welcome KordaMentha’s recommendation to amend the constitution to stop this practice.”

Former Liberal premier Ted Baillieu said all steps to stamp out branch stacking must be supported.

“Members hate it, supporters hate it and it’s bad for the party,” Mr Baillieu said.

The administrative committee will meet again next week to decide what actions will be taken following the report.

-ABC