In a year that has featured blatant Morrison Government corruption, executive editor Michelle Pini looks at why the most newsworthy thing is suddenly an incidence of ALP state branch stacking in Victoria.
HOW DO YOU deflect attention away from your own government’s misdeeds and simultaneously take a swipe at one of your main rivals?
Simple. Find a scandal linked to said rival, preferably in the lead-up to an important by-election, rabbit on about it indefinitely and assume a superior facial expression.
This week, the Victorian Labor Party branch stacking incident, covered by 60 Minutes, fulfilled all those requirements for the Morrison Government.
It features intricate backroom details most won’t understand, making it appear even more underhanded. It involves the Coalition’s most-despised state Labor leader, Daniel Andrews, who also happens to be unnervingly popular. It has been conveniently exposed during the lead up to the Eden-Monaro by-election. And it provides hours of amusement for much of the compliant media, keeping their occasionally prying eyes off oh-so-many other issues.
Of course, this week it was also discovered Deputy PM Michael McCormack charged taxpayers for luxury personal travel to attend the Melbourne Cup. And it is the week, coincidentally, that revealed the Morrison Government has no intention of fulfilling its promises of supporting all Australians as it pulls back billions in funding. It will instead, pick and choose winners and losers according to its own merit system — a system that gets more and more corrupt and less accountable with every passing week.
But, in a year that has featured blatant government favouritism in funding, illegal debt recovery from vulnerable people, the PM taking an overseas holiday during a national bushfire catastrophe and a minister flagrantly lying to parliament, among other things, the most outrageous and newsworthy thing, this week, is an incidence of state branch stacking in Victoria.
“Branch stacking” is when people who wish to influence party decisions at branch level enrol party members by paying their memberships, with or without their knowledge. In this way, members’ votes can be influenced for preselection of election candidates, for example.
Victorian Labor Party member Adem Somyurek allegedly engaged in this practice. Premier Daniel Andrews acted swiftly and Somyurek was expelled from the party.
However, branch stacking has been a problem in both the major parties for decades and there is no reason to assume it isn’t continuing, as was the case as recently as last year in the NSW Liberal Party. In that case, the allegations of branch stacking by the party's hard-right faction were ignored by the party executive.
Interestingly, branch stacking is closely linked to the PM’s own preselection for the electorate of Cook — a far more “miraculous” feat than Morrison’s election as PM as Dave Donovan pointed out:
In 2007, he won the seat of Cook for the Liberal Party, despite losing the pre-selection ballot 88 votes to six, after the opposing candidate, Michael Towke, was disendorsed over allegations of “branch stacking” and fraud. These claims were later proven to be false, after a successful defamation action against the Daily Telegraph newspaper. Suspicions linger that Morrison had run a dirty tricks campaign through the media to demonise Towke and parachute himself into the seat.
Towke never engaged in this practice, was defamed and his political career destroyed. But let’s not let any alleged and, as yet, unaddressed, corruption entangling the current Prime Minister cloud our outrage at the branch stacking in Victoria’s State Labor Party, which Daniel Andrews has already dealt with.
We should be so indignant about it, in fact, that we also ignore the following most recent Morrison Government scandals.
1. In January, as the bushfire calamity swept the nation, the PM ignored it completely, saying he didn’t need to“hold the hose”, took off on an overseas holiday and lied about it. Other responsible Government ministers were also AWOL and also lied about it. Morrison then took credit for the work done by everyone else before trying to force devasted bushfire victims into shaking his hand for photo opportunities.
Many people in bushfire affected areas are still living in tents, six months later.
6. Also in May, after four years of hardship inflicted on innocent people, the Morrison Government was forced to admit it illegally recovered money via the Robodebt scheme and would have to pay it back, as instructed by the Federal Court.
7. This month, it emerged Deputy PM Michael McCormack billed taxpayers approximately $4,600 per hour plus associated costs for a private RAAF jet ride to attend the Melbourne Cup with his wife.
8. Also In June, during Black Lives Matter protests across three continents, former PM Tony Abbott – the man who only hindered Indigenous rights at every turn – was awarded a Queen’s birthday medal for his “services” to Indigenous affairs.
9. And finally, the Prime Minister chose the busy month of June to announce that his Government couldn’t support people forever, despite not even supporting them as long as originally promised, and would be “snapping” right back to its previous complete absence of support for almost everybody. It will be ending JobKeeper and JobSeeker as it "can't save every job", starting with childcare workers — who are clearly unimportant to this Government. Subsidies to its big business mates will continue, though. Morrison was also able to find "a further $1.5 billion to immediately start work on small priority projects identified by the states and territories”.
STACKING IT ON
It’s not that these branch stacking activities shouldn’t be reported. That the media are giving so much weight to a humdrum Victorian state party branch, when an important by-election is occurring on 4 July, however, should give us pause.
In any democracy – where the media holds leaders to account as it should – when there is much to focus on and be outraged about, this Government would not be let off so lightly. In today’s Australia, however, where the media is owned by so few, where jobs are precarious and where the ABC has been cowered into submission, Morrison is let off pretty much "Scott"-free.
*This is only half the story! Read the rest of this editorial in the IA members-only area. It takes less than a minute to subscribe to IA and costs as little as $5 a month, or $50 a year — a small sum for superb journalism and lots of extras.
Support independent journalism Subscribe to IA.