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Byron Shire
November 27, 2022

Thus Spake Mungo: Bloody Victorians

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Déjà vu all over again. In the dim, dark ages before I even arrived in Canberra, I was writing stories about the Victorian branch of the Australian Labor Party – its bullying exclusion, its factional resistance to change, its impotent failure to rise from opposition to offer its disillusioned supporters even a sniff of electoral victory at either a state or federal level.

Finally Gough Whitlam crashed through, with the aid of a few stalwarts including, crucially, the late convert Clyde Cameron, and secured a bare majority from the party’s federal executive for reform. The dysfunctional branch was declared bogus, and a new Victorian ALP put in place to represent something like the mainstream.

It lasted long enough to wipe out the breakaway Democratic Labor Party and bring Labor into government at both levels, and the hope was that the lessons would be learned – but of course, politics, Labor, and the factions being what they are, the habits of a lifetime could not be broken…

New warlords replaced the old, and as Anthony Albanese admitted ruefully last week, they were not primarily interested in power to the people, or even to the party – they were only about power for themselves. And so, fifty years later, we are looking at more federal intervention, more disruption, more resentment and bitterness as Victoria braces for yet another reset. Here we go again.

It would not be so destructive if the cabbage patch state could be contained; but this was impossible then, and is even more impossible now – the speed and range of infection matches that of COVID-19 without the advantage of closing borders. The virus has escaped, the infection has spread across the nation. In a matter of hours, more allegations were leveled at Labor in New South Wales.

In Canberra, the unlovely right wing faction boss Anthony Byrne has been sprung for what Anthony Albanese tactfully describes as ‘inappropriate’ tweets – bilious diatribes against his colleagues, implicating him in the sordid business in a way which will ensure the feds cannot escape the turmoil.

Back in the 1970s, Labor agonised for well over a year before moving on the Vics, making sure every i was dotted and every t was crossed to make the exercise foolproof, and unchallengeable under the party’s rules

But a least one lesson has been learned. Back in the 1970s, Labor agonised for well over a year before moving on the Vics, making sure every i was dotted and every t was crossed to make the exercise foolproof, and unchallengeable under the party’s rules. Last week Albanese and the state premier Daniel Andrews did not muck around – within two days the federal executive was mobilised, and sentence delivered, administrators were in place, an inquiry was underway, and the membership frozen until after both state and federal elections.

Although there was action aplenty, it is dubious that it will lead to a genuine reform of the culture. Branch stacking will certainly be stalled, and some of the dead and the dummies removed from the current membership list, but as we have seen in the past, the practice is engrained, if not enshrined, in the political system.

There is a good reason that it has never been made illegal; enforcing compliance would be completely impractical. Technically, branch stacking is against the party rules; few, if any, take the prohibition seriously.

When Malcolm Turnbull spent a fortune, literally of his own money, to secure preselection for the wealthy enclave of Wentworth, some of his colleagues murmured disapproval, but most were torn between admiration and envy over what they described as the mother of all branch stacks

And it is not just a matter for Labor – it is just that the Liberals tend to be more genteel about it. When Malcolm Turnbull spent a fortune, literally of his own money, to secure preselection for the wealthy enclave of Wentworth, some of his colleagues murmured disapproval, but most were torn between admiration and envy over what they described as the mother of all branch stacks. And although Turnbull took the trophy, he was only the richest in a big field of competitors.

And the hypocrisy is even starker as the nation’s chief law officer, Attorney-General Christian Porter, continues to fudge and delay even a Clayton’s version of a federal anti-corruption commission. The equivalent state bodies, on both sides of the Murray, were in action almost immediately. The notion that a similar type of investigation is somehow unnecessary makes nonsense of the government’s entirely justified demand that Byrne explain himself to the national parliament.

Branch stacking is bipartisan; a sport enjoyed by all factions in all parties in all administrations. Scott Morrison’s pretence – that they are unique to Labor – is as silly as his overblown insistence that his party is not implicated in such shenanigans because the Libs don’t really have factions. But right now they are working well, and will continue to do so, at least for the next fortnight, because the timing could hardly be worse for the opposition – with the Eden-Monaro by-election poised to deliver a verdict on Albanese’s leadership.

Eden-Monaro will be ‘blown up’ by the Murdoch press into a vital indicator of both Albanese’s future and that of the party as a whole

The result is not actually all that important; the government is not at risk, and despite the best efforts of the propagandists of the Murdoch press, nor is Albanese’s position. But however it goes, Eden-Monaro will be ‘blown up’ by the Murdoch press into a vital indicator of both Albanese’s future and that of the party as a whole. This was always going to be the case, but with Victoria imploding, and the fallout scattering across the country, the test – and the distraction – will be magnified into an existential crisis of leadership, at a time when Morrison is trying to regain traction.

And in the meantime, politics as usual has reverted to the old normal – insults, bickering, triviality, all the fault lines that exasperate and infuriate an electorate who may, just for a moment, have imagined that a new way was possible. And it will be like that all the way to the next election, and the one after that, and the next, and on and on…

On the morning of polling day
The voter arose from his coffin
And ran to the nearest booth—
He planned to vote early and often.

By the evening of polling day
The voter was chastened and surly.
He hadn’t a clue who had won
But he’d sure voted often and early.

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  1. This enlightening of the way politics is done highlights the need to change fundimentally the political process.
    We stare, astonished at the self centeredness and shallowness of the players in this life drama, but, on reflection , it is apparent that the process as it stands self selects for sociapaths, narcisists, the venal and powermongers.
    , none of whom has the best interests of the people or the nation at heart.
    We would be better served by appointing our representatives from the Electoral Roll in the same way we select juries.

  2. Very good points Simon ! Yes we could select from the general public some wonderful candidates
    To run our Country at a state level and federally
    Straight down the middle those candidates should
    Be . No leftwing or rightwing BS , non Bias
    Make common sense decisions. Everyone accepting, no Racism, no gender , equality
    Issues. What a wonderful world it could be !!
    And credit to you Mungo for coming back to Centre , to bring to the Attention the problematic
    Issues the Labor party face and in particular Victoria. And yes the Coalition are no Saints either .
    Power to the People ! Not over the People..
    Incidentally the ABC are conspicuously absent
    From informing the Taxpayer’s regarding underpaying its staff !! 12 million i believe!!
    Not so quiet in its pursuit of Mr Master chef .
    The Hypocrisy from this Public funded organization is overwhelming.. Stefanie i think
    Even you would be appalled by this !!

  3. Wow !
    I couldn’t agree more, Simon. Any fool would be an improvement on the current mob of lawyers and shysters, I do believe it would be prudent though, to limit the term of the appointees to only one year.
    That way they could deliberate on issues, but not form factions nor become as corrupt as those now entrenched for three or four years.
    Otherwise no matter how we vote , we still end up with politicians.
    Cheers , G”)

  4. Round & round we go.. in the circle game of
    ‘polly kicks’. Yeah, Turnbull branch stacked
    because they all do. Pity we don’t have a
    modern day Gogh to help straighten the
    Vic’s out but it’s too late for that. Whitlam’s
    instinct would work well these days in a
    full Federal sense. Ah, well. We could just
    go ahead & find our politicians by stabbing
    a name in the phone book – upper & lower
    house. Yep – we have ScoMe pretending
    his good-guy party doesn’t stack when
    they’re ‘done doers’ as well. Mungo’s
    right. The lot of ’em will meet in Hell if
    they haven’t the entrance fee to Heaven.

  5. The branch stacking kerfuffle has already been wiped of the front pages by Victoria’s double digit Covid numbers. Crises can provide very convenient cover for political scandals – just ask Scomo about how many he can dismiss as ‘in the bubble’ with an ever bigger, self-satisfied smirk.

  6. Great column Mungo but the most BLATANT example of branch interference was Morrison himself! In July 2007 Michael Towke (who by coincidence went to the same high school as me!) won pre-selection for the safe seat of Cook. He has a first-class honours degree in engineering and a BA, both from the University of Sydney, and won the Alan Davis Prize, the top prize for sociology. He had an MBA from the Australian Graduate School of Management. Towke won easily against Scumo. On the first ballot, he polled 10 times as many votes as Morrison, 82 votes to 8, who was eliminated in the first round. The Libs didn’t like this. They white-anted him with with a vicious attack on his character with the help of The Daily Sewer. Newsorp was sued, Towke won the legal battle, Newscorp paid and settled $50,000 but his political credibility had been destroyed by the Murdoch press. Scumo had been parachuted into the seat over Towke’s political carcass! Morrison should not even be in parliament let alone leader of The Looters! He had lost the pre-selection 82 votes to eight and should never have been the Member for Cook or ANYTHING for that matter! This just shows you how ruthless Morrison is.

  7. Barrow why piss around with your suggestion. We really only need power to one person, to act like a Dictator if you like, someone acting like your …ProMo ScoNO. On The ABC and underpaying casual workers the $12miilions, just another shocker that is industrial scale wage theft that runs rife and rampant across Australia. It seems that wages theft ( I think the collective Australia bill is now somewhere near $1billions ) is a ‘virus’ that Covid would be proud of in its scale and impact. And your ScoNo, not a word in condemnation of the wage FRAUD visited upon Aussie workers. But then again his silence on FRAUD is quite understandable considering he implemented ‘RoboRobberyDebt’, the biggest act of state sanctioned FRAUD in Australia’s history.

  8. For the Record Joachim i voted for the Coalition
    In the last election because in my humble opinion
    That was the best result for the Australia. Not for me Joachim but for the Country i was born in ..
    The Alternative labor – Greens would have been a
    Disaster. It would make sence if labor and the Greens form one super Progressive, There policies are as one !!
    I voted labor for 20 years when they were a party
    For the workers ! Not any more Joachim. The Greens leader is a educated self proclaimed socialist ! And Albo well he is worse than Shorten
    So left leaning, he if leaned anymore Left he would
    End up in WA . The only Possible Chance that labor have moving forward to win the next election is
    Jim Chalmers.

  9. Branch stacking?
    Books have been written about branch stacking. I suggest you all have a read of, “God under Howard, the rise of the religious right in Australian politics”. Marion Maddox 2005. This book was written after years of branch stacking by religious fundamentalists factions in the LNP.
    Now after 15 years of fanatical branch stacking by religious zealots.
    We have seen Abbotts catholic fundamentalists faction stack their way to the top. Then the Turnbull moderates faction take over after that ridiculous Abbott faction disaster.
    Only to have the Turnbull faction manically obstructed at every turn by the Morrison evangelical faction and the Catholic faction.
    The massive female abuse scandal and then the treacherous knifing of the Turnbull moderate faction. Prior to the last election the moderate faction quit federal politics on mass, rather than sit in the same room as these now out of control Catholic and Evangelical factions that had now completely taken over the party. The reps the Senate and every institution, society and foundation connected to the parties.
    Just remember when you vote, a vote for the LNP, that vote will be for a religious faction foremost, policy always comes second and anyone can see the disaster unfolding in the LNP failure after failure.
    But as it is with 90% of our media in Australia now being nothing more than stenographers for the LNP, you will never hear a word of this, it’s all Labor Labor Labor! And that is Australia’s greatest threat.

  10. And then there was Bluey and Curly
    pencilling in ever so slowly their vote
    for a politician be it a male or a girly
    as they’ll always get a sheep or a goat

  11. Stefanie accountant here. The ABC [nasty wage grabbers]
    in Brissie. Qld made a very small mistake. The numbers;

    $19,000 over 3 years
    Staff number; 2,500
    Divide $19,000 by 2,500
    Total $2.53 each pay-day

    I am not at all upset about that barrow. the above is
    1/3 of a cup of coffee.

  12. Barrow old son, we seem to have something in common. I also was once a Labor voter, a rusted on voter at that. But that changed as Labor more and more lost their soul with examples such as; the issue of asylum seekers; single parents being kicked off the parent payment allowance onto the Newstart; the Adani issue as a whole and in particular the despicable act of agreeing to amend Native Title Law Rights so as to dismiss any Indigenous objections to Adani. Then to confirm my view Labor’s support of the farce that is ScoNO’s ‘JobKeeper’ that deliberately left behind hundreds of thousands of workers. The Greens are for me. and I am for The Greens.

  13. My short reply is… to hell with ScoMo’s gang &
    Labor’s gutless-ness. An ABC funding hit is
    everyone’s business. The 84 million $$$ slap
    plus the 250 job loss is political poison. I left
    my breakfast untouched.

  14. I don’t know that Labor lost its soul so much as saw the writing on the wall with regards to the way it can be so easily and disastrously wedged by a cynical opposition on such issues as energy, climate change and border control. There’s not much that can be achieved from opposition. The no holds barred approach was perfected by Howard then Abbott but the wedge politics can also at times be assisted by the Greens who see Labor as more their natural rivals than the conservatives. Unfortunately politics is the art of the possible and, as Whitlam noted, only the impotent are pure. To my mind the best way of seeing the best outcomes in these areas where we all want change is to have a strongly supported Labor government that is not forced to run scared.

  15. True…. as true can be, Liz L. It’s probably time for
    Labor to get in touch with our new wiz kid on the
    block – The Citizens Party – Check them out.
    Currently they are showering the LNP with ‘hands
    off our bank deposits!’


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