A former senior Victorian Labor figure has revealed in a stark interview that glaring problems within the party have been going on for decades with little effective change.
Erik Locke, former State Secretary of the Australian Labor Party in Victoria and a Chief of Staff in three jurisdictions, revealed on Wednesday that while accusations of industrial-scale branch stacking within the Labor Party were on a new scale, the “factional machines” that controlled the party stifled change for decades.
“The problem with the rules of the Labor Party is that whoever is in charge of the party polices the rules so it’s a gamekeeper-turned-poacher kind of scenario,” Mr Locke told Patricia Karvelas on RN Drive.
“There was a will on many people’s parts [to change] … I don’t want to say there was no will… it’s just that party structures entrench current practices and whoever is in charge tends not to execute change.
“It takes seismic events to create change such as what has happened now.
“I found that very difficult as a party official who was not from the group that was in charge that was running things not to my satisfaction.
“There was a lot of public commentary about branch stacking at the time, not to the same temperature as is now the case, but similarly, it was very uncomfortable for me.”
Mr Locke didn’t go as far as to say he knew brach stacking was going on but said, “I knew there had been multiple inquiries down many years” but said the allegations “were probably not at the level that is alleged now”.
It comes as the state’s ombudsman was also asked to investigate the scandal and the party begins a “painful” process of reform.
Secret recordings of now-former Labor heavyweight Adem Somyurek allegedly organising branch stacking and using vile language about colleagues and staff were first aired by Nine on Sunday night.
The expose prompted his sacking from cabinet and he quit the party.
His right-faction allies Marlene Kairouz and Robin Scott later resigned from cabinet, following allegations their staff were connected to Mr Somyurek’s efforts.
The scandal prompted Premier Daniel Andrews to ask Labor’s national executive to reform the Victorian party.
They were only too happy to oblige, with former premier Steve Bracks and former federal minister Jenny Macklin appointed as administrators of the branch until January.
“I don’t think there’s any innocence in the Labor Party down through the years and often the diagnosis has been pretty poor of what the problem is.
“Down through the last 30 or 40 years there has been different people in charge of the Labor Party at different times and this has remained a problem, that’s partly my fault as an official.
“I’m no longer involved any more, I’m no longer an official, but I’m willing to shoulder my share of the blame for not doing enough back then, not being credible enough for doing something about it.
Meanwhile, Victoria’s Premier Daniel Andrews and federal Labor leader Anthony Albanese’s plan to take control of the Victorian branch is set to be fought in the courts.
The challenge, by furious members of the Victorian trade union secretaries, was discussed in a phone hook-up Wednesday after voting rights for rank and file members were suspended until 2023 while every member is audited to ensure they genuinely want to be members and have paid to be so themselves.
Victorian trade union secretaries believe it is an unfair punishment for those uninvolved in the controversy.
Mr Andrews apologised to the party’s “true believers”.
“I apologise for your pain, and I guarantee you when this reform work is finished, not only will your voice be heard, but it will be louder than it has ever been,” Mr Andrews said in parliament.
The lengthy time frame without voting rights is necessary, he stressed.
“Cleaning this up will take some time and you’ve got to break the business model of those who would seek to undermine the integrity of our systems,” he said.
The national executive will need to preselect candidates for the next federal and state elections.
Mr Bracks and Ms Macklin will deliver their final report in November.
Earlier, Victoria’s corruption watchdog confirmed it will investigate explosive allegations of industrial-scale branch stacking within the Labor Party.
The independent broad-based Anti-corruption Commission on Wednesday said it is investigating “serious allegations of corrupt conduct” within Victorian Labor.
“IBAC’s Operation Fortescue will examine a range of matters concerning allegations of branch stacking, and other matters aired recently in media reports, and other related complaints made to IBAC,” it said in a statement.
The premier said reforming the party would be a “painful process”, but will lead to rank and file members having a greater say in Labor’s future.
“What we’ll have coming out of this is a better structure, one which is going to be fit for purpose for the future and one which will mean that we can get floods of people joining,” Mr Andrews told reporters.
A motion put by the opposition in Victoria’s upper house referring the scandal to ombudsman Deborah Glass was passed on Wednesday, with the help of Labor and a swag of crossbenchers.
Leader of the government in the chamber Jaclyn Symes said the ombudsman may have to wait until the corruption watchdog and Victoria Police are finished investigating.
But Labor wouldn’t oppose the motion because Ms Glass would be “able to consider the matters herself and form her own judgements”.
Liberal MP David Davis said the ombudsman probe was needed as the scandal had “very serious ramifications for our democracy”.
Mr Somyurek denies the allegations and wants police to investigate the legality of the recordings aired by Nine.
Mr Scott and Ms Kairouz vowed to clear their names and remain part of the Labor government.
Mr Andrews said he was confident nobody else in his team has been allegedly using taxpayer-funded staff to further political interests.