An ALP report reveals what Labor bosses didn’t want you to know about power and preselections, but a brave whistleblower has lifted the lid on the scandal,
An ALP report reveals what Labor bosses didn’t want you to know about power and preselections, but a brave whistleblower has lifted the lid on the scandal,

Whistleblower reveals dirty secrets of branch stacking

­­It was 35 years ago when he lost his job as a garbage collector that Paul Drayton joined the ALP

They were the heady days when Bob Hawke was prime minister and the ALP was that great light on the hill that offered blokes like Drayton a better life.

Drayton, a humble man from Guildford, this week became a central figure in NSW Labor's branch-stacking scandal.

Member for Granville Julia Finn with Merryland locals. Picture: Carmela Roche/AAP
Member for Granville Julia Finn with Merryland locals. Picture: Carmela Roche/AAP

He's one of seven people named for wrongdoing in an explosive internal Labor review into branch stacking in a string of NSW branches in Western Sydney.

But there's something different about Drayton - he's a whistleblower.

When former Queensland Labor boss Evan Moorhead came knocking, Drayton threw the curtains open, bravely laying out evidence of years of behaviour by powerful Labor figures to thwart preselection processes.

Late yesterday, NSW Labor frontbencher Julia Finn - one of Jodi McKay's close friends and allies - stepped down from the frontbench after being embroiled in the scandal.

Finn maintains she did nothing wrong, but the stench of branch stacking and a bungled political response to the crisis was becoming too much for the state Labor leader to bear and her mate had to go.

The allegations were first aired in November. An anonymous whistleblower had compiled a 33-page dossier of evidence dating back to 2011 of unethical branch conduct.

There were photos, branch books, emails and even video evidence which claimed to show systematic falsification of membership data.

The branches in play were strung across Western Sydney, spanning over the electorates of Granville, Auburn and Parramatta.

The dossier was sent on November 5 to NSW Labor leader McKay, federal Labor leader Anthony Albanese and NSW Labor head office. The complainant was met with silence. Out of frustration, they then sent the dossier to The Daily Telegraph.

When this newspaper made inquiries, McKay and Albanese called for an investigation.

 

Branch management

Branch stacking is the act of breaching attendance rules and membership books in order to falsely inflate meeting attendance and branch sizes.

It can take the form of paying for other people's memberships, faking attendance books, faking minutes or entirely faking members.

It risks sounding a bit "inside politics" at first blush. But do not be mistaken, branch staking is a real assault on Australian democracy because it means powerful individuals are deciding who you can and can't vote for in elections.

When a 60 Minutes exposé on Victorian branch stacking went to air last Sunday night amid much fanfare, there were nervous viewers in NSW.

It revealed how powerbroker and Victorian minister Adem Somyurek had engaged in what was termed "industrial-scale stacking".

He'd registered local members with false details, paid for memberships and directed ministerial staffers in the course of branch-stacking activities.

Australian Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese. Picture: Lukas Coch/AAP
Australian Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese. Picture: Lukas Coch/AAP

Finally in March, that independent investigation ordered by McKay and Albanese was completed and handed to party officials. The findings were damning, but no one mentioned the scale of them until Tuesday when this newspaper obtained a leaked copy of the report.

Respected former Queensland Labor boss Moorhead investigated 11 specific allegations across the branches of Granville Central, Granville East Park Hill, Guildford, Harris Park and Merrylands. This spanned Labor heartland-type electorates of Auburn, Granville and Parramatta. Seven people, including powerbroker and former federal MP Laurie Ferguson had been found to have engaged in "unworthy conduct".

Another 50 people were found to have committed rule breaches but spared punishment. This included frontbencher Finn.

Moorhead had distinguished two categories of party offence - those who actively solicited branch-stacking behaviour, such as soliciting signatures or paying for members, and those who merely partook in their requests.

Finn was found to have signed a book outside a meeting. The evidence was that she was listed as an apology to the meeting in the minutes but then appeared to have signed the book after the meeting. She has given evidence that the meeting was a Christmas party and she arrived late.

Finn was also central to a second allegation of which she was cleared. Both she and federal Parramatta MP Julie Owens were found to have signed a branch book incorrectly, deliberately leaving blank signature holes above their names. This is a tactic perceived by others to be intended to allow branch-stackers to later fill in the signature blocks without drawing too much attention by dumping non-attendees at the bottom of the list.

While video evidence clearly shows Finn and Owens - who also denies wrongdoing - had left the signature blocks empty, Moorhead's report found this was not a breach.

Internal affairs

Already, Labor head office has received a furious letter signed by 26 party members slamming the report for being too soft on elected officials like Finn and Owens.

The allegation of the original dossier of allegations presented to Moorhead was that the branch-stack racket was a product of the NSW Labor Ferguson faction. This splinter group of the left is known colloquially as "the family". Former federal MP Ferguson is joined in the faction by two other NSW Labor frontbenchers - his stepdaughter Lynda Voltz and his brother-in-law Paul Lynch.

Finn is also a member of the faction although not a relative.

Others include Voltz's brother David and her mother Maureen. Lynch was not investigated for any wrongdoing, Voltz was cleared in the report and while Maureen Walsh was found to have breached party rules, it was recommended she not be punished.

Both David Voltz and Ferguson were named in Moorhead's report for branch stacking and face party expulsion, and Lynch's former staffer Luke McCaskie was named for paying for other people's memberships.

The Daily Telegraph this week revealed McCaskie undertook some of his membership business using Lynch's ministerial email back when Labor was in government and Lynch was industrial relations minister.

NSW Opposition Leader Jodi McKay. Picture: Joel Carrett/AAP
NSW Opposition Leader Jodi McKay. Picture: Joel Carrett/AAP

Lynch was not mentioned in Moorhead's report and nor was the use of his email address.

When The Daily Telegraph inquired about this apparent omission, it was told this element was "out of scope" of the terms of reference.

The allegations also accused Voltz of corruption, but she was cleared by the report. Everyone in this group denies any wrongdoing.

Labor was banking on the fact that all this is not easy to follow. To the average voter, it's just a lot of names of a lot of political operatives they've never heard of before.

But what was presented to Moorhead was allegations of a sophisticated power ring that worked in concert to stack numbers and build influence. At the centre was a family grouping, but they were surrounded by supporters.

Drayton was one of those. He tells how he was recruited to the party in 1985 when he was out of a job. Labor was everything he hoped for and more. Drayton was committed to the cause and worked closely with Mr Ferguson and his friend Maurice Campbell, who was also named in the Moorhead report for branch stacking but denies it. Drayton would take two weeks leave from work before elections to help Ferguson with letterbox drops.

In his statutory declaration provided to Moorhead's report, Drayton tells how on one campaign he stood on a nail and ended up having a toe amputated due to infection. As a result of his service, he was awarded Labor's McKell award - a prize presented for "meritorious service for the Australian Labor Party".

It's an honour Drayton treasures.

But he spectacularly fell out with the Fergusons over a preselection decision. In 2014, when the Fergusons were working furiously to have Finn installed as the member for Granville, Drayton cast his vote for her opponent Greg Cummings. This was evidence presented to the Moorhead inquiry and Drayton confirmed this yesterday. "I believed he would have been the better candidate but after (we fell out)," he said.

Of the seven people accused of branch stacking Moorhead's report commended two for their evidence.

"Importantly Peter Monaghan and Paul Drayton are the only two individuals to have provided evidence in my review who have accepted that they were involved in the practice in question," the report states. "Most other witnesses have denied involvement while accusing others of falsifying branch records … The evidence of Peter Monaghan was that this practice was to support preferred candidates in local preselections."

The report notes Drayton had been president of the Merrylands branch.

"In considering the position as regards Paul Drayton, the Administrative Committee should note he has provided direct evidence to independent Review and has admitted to the practice of falsification of branch attendance records in the Merrylands branch."

Moorhead continued: "Peter Monaghan and Paul Drayton are both straightforward fellows and, if anything, bring a naivety to their branch involvement."

Drayton said yesterday he hoped to remain a member of the Labor Party because there "are still many good people and good things to do".

Several hours after he was interviewed for this article yesterday, Labor's Sussex Street phoned Drayton to tell him he was suspended.

As news broke Finn would stand aside, head office had moved to contact all seven people named for branch stacking to suspend their memberships.

Now, the questions for McKay are, how far does this reach? And will more people be brave enough to blow the whistle even if they implicate themselves?

 

THE STORY SO FAR ...

Eleven allegations across Granville Central branch, Granville East Park Hill branches, Guildford branch, Harris Park branch and Merrylands branch covering the state electorates of Auburn, Granville and Parramatta.

Seven people found to have engaged in "unworthy conduct" in relation to branch stacking.

More than 50 people found to have committed rule breaches but spared punishment, including Labor frontbencher Julia Finn. In one case, allegations could not even be investigated because branch books were "stolen".

 

KEY ALLEGATIONS LEVELLED

Paying for other people's memberships

Falsification of branch books including by soliciting branch attendance signatures outside of branch meetings

Poor record keeping that made it impossible to determine the extent of some problems

Activity undertaken to "support preferred candidates in local preselections"

 

KEY FINDINGS

"A concerning culture amongst local branches."

"There are examples in this assessment across several branches fo the falsification of branch attendance books."

"I consider the reliance on local branch records to determine critical eligibility to be surprising and deficient."

"This makes it very difficult for branch members and the public to have confidence in plebiscites using branch attendance records in the areas."

"There is a perception amongst some branches that they must engage in conduct against the rules because other branches also participate in this conduct."

"Complainants and interviewees feel that reporting allegations to party office are unlikely to result in charges."

 

RECOMMENDATIONS

Head office takes over preselections for Granville, South Granville, Merrylands, Guildford and Guildford West

Membership audit

A 12-month amnesty against expulsion or suspension of members who come forward with honest and direct evidence about false branch records

Reduction of branches in the Granville electorate

Central verification of branch books

 

 

 

 

Originally published as Whistleblower reveals dirty secrets of branch stacking


Noosa Magistrates Court appearances today

Premium Content Noosa Magistrates Court appearances today

Here is a list of matters listed at Noosa Magistrates Court

Millions in COVID fines, penalties unpaid

Premium Content Millions in COVID fines, penalties unpaid

Nine out of 10 people issued with COVID penalty have not paid

A man, a mower and a remarkable $1.5m journey

Premium Content A man, a mower and a remarkable $1.5m journey

Claude Harvey has pushed his lawnmower across Australia