It is one thing to suspect, or even know, someone is a branch stacker.
The type of evidence obtained covertly in the Somyurek case, which demonstrated an intention to stack, as well as the fact of payment of other’s membership fees, is rare as hen’s teeth.
The ALP Victorian Branch rules against branch stacking look fairly comprehensive at a first glance. But there is still room for improvement.
Here is a summary of the existing rules.
Summary of ani-branch stacking rule
Branch stacking is defined as “the enrolling of persons to the Party by offering inducement or enrolling persons for the principal purpose of influencing the outcome of ballots of members within the Party”.
Party members individually or collectively who engage in, organise or promote Branch stacking activities, are deemed to have engaged in Branch stacking.
This includes the following activities:
- paying the membership fee of a person as an inducement for that person to join the Party; or
- paying the membership fee of a person who is unwilling to pay their own membership fee; or
- paying the membership fees for any person unaware that membership has been taken out on their behalf; or
- paying the membership fee for a person on the precondition or understanding of that member being obliged to vote in a particular way; or
- paying for another’s membership in an attempt to influence the outcome of any ballot of members within the Party; or
- encouraging any person to join the Party for the express purpose of influencing the outcome of local preselection ballots or other membership ballots; or
- enrolling, encouraging or assisting a member to enroll on the electoral roll at an address which is not the principal address of the member; or
- organising or paying for concessional rate fees for a person who is ineligible for that rate without a reasonable belief that the person was entitled to the concessional rate; or
- recruiting members who do not live at the claimed address of enrolment.
Subject to the family member exception, it is the responsibility of each member to pay their own membership fee to the Party. Any member who has membership paid for by another person is in breach of the rules.
It is the responsibility of Party Officials and other Party officeholders to ensure that members pay for their own membership. Any Party Official or officeholder who engages in, promotes, or assists in Branch stacking activities breaches the rules.
The Administrative Committee will appoint a representative to investigate allegations of Branch stacking activities, in an electorate where a complaint is received by 50 members or by 20% of members entitled to vote in a preselection ballot in that electorate (whichever is the lesser).
Where there are more than 40 Central Branch applicants from any FEA in any single month, the Administrative Committee will consider appointing a representative to investigate their joining under these rules.
A written report of any investigation under this Rule shall be provided to the Administrative Committee.
Where a report identifies conduct which, in the opinion of the Administrative Committee, may constitute a breach and which is sufficient to justify charges being brought in respect of the conduct, the Administrative Committee will appoint a representative to lay charges against members alleged to be involved in such breaches.
How could the rules be further tightened?
Upon closer examination, the rules are contradictory and poorly drafted.
Too many of the examples of branch stacking activity require proof of intention or knowledge. For example, paying a membership fee to induce the person to join the party. Here it would be necessary to prove the existence of an intention to induce to make out a breach of this rule. Another example, paying the membership fees for any person unaware that membership has been taken out on their behalf. Here, evidence is required of the state of knowledge of the person whose membership has been paid for- again near impossible to obtain in the absence of an express admission.
Later, the rules state that “Subject to the family member exception, it is the responsibility of each member to pay their own membership fee to the Party.” This does not require proof of intention or knowledge. To give effect to this responsibility, the rules should be amended to simply state that, subject to the family member exception, branch stacking occurs where somebody else pays the person’s membership fee. In these circumstances, both the payer and payee should be guilty of breaching the rules.
Consideration should be given to a rule that makes the payee’s membership a nullity save that no internal party election in which they have voted as a member should be affected by their membership subsequently becoming null and void.
If this is too extreme then, where there is proof that someone has paid someone else’s membership fee, the onus should shift back onto the payer to show a reasonable excuse, or an intention, or state of knowledge, inconsistent with branch stacking.
The family member exception means that a family member living in the same house can renew the membership of another family member living in the same household. A member who signs a renewal form on behalf of another member must state that they sign on behalf of the other member and legibly print their own name under the signature. On the face of it, this seems a reasonable exception. But any inquiry into the operation of the current rules should examine whether the family member exception has been rorted.
It should also be possible to tighten the rule stating that Party Officials and other Party officeholders are responsible for ensuring members pay for their own membership. This could be tightened by requiring proof of payment of membership fees by a designated means. For example, through payment by a credit or debit card held in the member’s name, or by direct transfer from an account held in the member’s name. This of course would still not prevent a stacker from giving the money for the membership fee to the person before or after they make the payment. But it might make the process more difficult for the stackers.
In the end though, it is unlikely that any set of rules can completely guarantee an end to branch stacking.