After the success of the surge of democracy in our party that saw for the first time rank and file participation in electing the national leader, people could be forgiven for assuming the same meaningful participation by branch members would apply in choosing local candidates for State and Federal electorates.
The forthcoming Victorian State pre-selections indicate the exact opposite.
In mind boggling displays of arrogance prominent Victorian branch factional warlords from the left and right have always insisted on a series of cross faction deals that ensure their nominee gains endorsement in most pre-selections.
It’s claimed that these arrangements provide ‘stability’. In reality this ‘stability pact’ is simply just a mechanism to preserve power for three or four usually self-appointed factional leaders. They, with hands on hearts, will tell you they are strong supporters of Party democracy. What they don’t tell you is democracy is only acceptable as long as it doesn’t impact on their power or self-interest.
In most instances the actual breakdown of factional stability is caused by the very same factional operatives. The attempt to remove former Federal Parliamentary Leader Simon Crean in Hotham and the successful and brutal dumping of nonaligned Federal MP’s Anne Corcoran, Bob Sercombe and Gavin O’Connor prior to the 2007 Federal Election are clear examples of the arrogance exhibited by the same factional operatives.
Rather than create stability across the party these deals have precisely the opposite effect on party democracy and rank and file participation in pre selections – particularly in regional communities where there are much smaller numbers of branch members.
Most regional rank and file members resent this type of factional bastardry especially after so many local branch members work hard to win a seat from the Liberals, build the vote up to a respectable margin usually over many years and without any help from the so called factional leaders and then have the seat taken over by one or the other of the main factions who then seize the opportunity to ensure their nominee gets pre-selected.
The Bendigo Federal electorate was part of a similar cross factional deal favouring the Victorian Labor Unity (Right) faction when I was pre-selected in 1997. Paul Higgins was the then anointed Labor Unity candidate with the nonaligned group also fielding a candidate in Gary Thorn.
Of the 178 Bendigo FEA members eligible to vote I gained the highest local vote (62%) with the other two candidates sharing the remaining 38% with Gary Thorn, the nonaligned candidate gaining most of that remaining 38%.
This resulted in an all-out effort by Labor Unity and sections of the Left who then dumped the official Labor Unity candidate and supported the nonaligned candidate to ensure the left candidate was defeated and the deal was adhered to.
However, with 62% of the local rank and file vote (more than doubling the local vote of each of the two non-left candidates) and with some support from non-members of the left on the central panel, I was able to win the overall ballot by just 1 vote.
Because we in Bendigo have, up until now, a united party organisation with no factional game playing we were able to win the Bendigo Federal electorate on six occasions and have similar results in State elections. Having candidates enjoying strong local branch support was and still is a vital part of that success.
Few people outside the Party will be aware of the ridiculous cross factional arrangement that has the State Electorate of Macedon allocated to the left faction resulting in an attempt to bring someone from the Melbourne metropolitan district with no affinity to or knowledge of the region into the electorate as the endorsed candidate.
The Daylesford Branch has recognised the stupidity and arrogance of this proposal and has initiated a pledge for all candidates seeking pre-selection in Macedon which states:
I (candidates name)
commit as a Labor candidate for the State seat of Macedon, to accept the outcome of the local vote and agree to resign my candidacy before the meeting of the Public Office Selection Committee (POSC) if I am unsuccessful in winning a majority of the local ballot.
So far, of the four candidates who have indicated their intention to nominate only Christian Zahra has signed the pledge with the other three indicating they will refuse to sign.
The others including the Left’s official candidate are apparently prepared to claim the endorsement based on a factional deal with a minority of local support and run the risk of alienating the majority of Macedon Branch members and adversely impacting on the effectiveness of the local campaign.
The question has to be asked: where will the non-signatories loyalties be placed?
To the electors and Labor branch members of the Macedon electorate or the faction that secured them the pre selection against the wishes of the majority of branch members.
Regional candidates and MP’s loyalties need to be with their electorates and branch members within their electorate and not with groups or organisations based outside the electorate.
In another display of arrogance the Victorian ALP rejected a request for a postal vote for local branch members, despite 4 out of 5 branches (representing 85% of local branch members) supporting the request in writing. Postal voting in large regional electorates is usually acceptable in most instances.
The State branch has now insisted on the main Polling Place for Macedon (open for 8 hours) being located at the electorate office of Joanne Duncan MP in Gisborne – more than fifty minutes’ drive from the vast majority of branch members in the Macedon electorate with a second polling booth located in Kyneton for just two hours the next day (between 6:00 pm and 8:00 pm)
This is a clear attempt to disenfranchise as many local branch members as possible and minimise the vote of the candidate who is running against the ‘deal’.
The new electorate of Macedon is very marginal and the Liberals will be targeting the seat in 2014, so it will be a tough campaign. We need a Labor candidate with the maturity, tenacity, sound political judgement and strong regional marginal seats experience to win the seat for Labor. I believe Christian Zahra is the best candidate by a country mile to win Macedon for Labor.
Former Labor Federal MP for Bendigo 1998 – 2013
10 December 2013