Liberals agree to new rules to stamp out branch stacking

New members of the Victorian Liberal Party will be forced to provide photo identification when applying to join and staff will be banned from sharing their login details in an effort to stamp out branch stacking.

The shake-up follows a scathing report by forensic accountants from KordaMentha, who were brought in to review the party’s processes amid allegations of branch stacking and rorting of taxpayer funds.

The Victorian Liberals are strengthening party rules against branch stacking.Credit:Penny Stephens

The investigators were called in after The Age and Sydney Morning Herald revealed a series of allegations in August detailing branch-stacking activities and extensive use of “warehousing” in which new members join one electorate but transfer to another branch within months.

After more than six months of consultations, interviews and further investigation, the party’s administrative committee released its response to members on Wednesday.

It agreed to adopt a raft of recommendations, including a provision which will force new members to provide a driver’s licence or other photographic identification before their membership is approved.

That change comes in response to the audit finding that 170 memberships were paid for by another person’s credit card, against party rules.

As part of the shake-up, the party’s state director or the administrative committee will also need to approve requests for membership transfers between electorates made within six months of a new member joining to prevent “warehousing”.

The audit found 222 instances of “warehousing” between 2015 and 2020, in which members joined the party through one federal electorate conference (FEC) before transferring to another electorate within six months.

Liberal MP for Deakin Michael Sukkar campaigning with Prime Minister Scott Morrison at the last election.Credit:Dominic Lorrimer

More than one in four of these cases occurred in the federal electorate of Deakin, which is held by federal MP and Assistant Treasurer Michael Sukkar.

In 2017 alone, the number of members transferring electorates within 180 days of joining the party represented 45 per cent of all new memberships in Deakin and 33 per cent in the Labor-held seats of Corio, contested for the Liberals in 2019 by Alastair Thomson, and Scullin, contested by Gurpal Singh.

The Liberal Party is also considering a shake-up of voting rights for internal party elections which would restrict members to voting only in the federal and state electorate conference where they live after a qualifying period.

The Liberals will also make it a breach of the party’s rules for staff to share their login details after the report found “periods of high and unexplained after-hours access” to membership records.

According to auditors, one former employee shared his membership database log-in credentials with several co-workers. Those credentials were then used to access membership records 288 times in 2017 and 949 times in 2018, “far in excess” of the levels of access even of full time secretariat membership staff.

The auditors also criticised the party’s record keeping, which is not integrated with the party’s financial records, enabling discrepancies to arise.

In response, the Victorian branch will introduce a new membership database, based on the NSW division’s system, which will be rolled out in coming months to ensure all changes to records and user access are recorded.

A member of the party’s administrative committee, speaking to The Age on condition of anonymity because they were not authorised to speak publicly on internal party matters, confirmed the committee had passed a motion to accept all the recommendations after receiving an unredacted copy of the KordaMentha report which named alleged members who breached rules.

“There has been an abuse of the loopholes over the years,” the administrative committee member said.

“We are accepting all of the recommendations.”

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