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No action against Liberal 'whistleblowers' as party concedes failures

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EXCLUSIVE | An internal SA Liberal investigation over the “misuse” of members’ email addresses will not see any action taken against the “whistleblower” offenders – because no-one had told them they were breaching party rules, InDaily can reveal.

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The party will now clamp down on what it concedes has been a “wide distribution” of members’ private email addresses, warning members they are not to be shared or used for any purpose besides canvassing support for elected positions.

Party state director Sascha Meldrum said in a report seen by InDaily: “It is my view that there is a need to improve the way in which [membership email] lists are distributed, better communicate the confidentiality of the lists and the consequences of any misuse of the lists.”

Meldrum launched the inquiry after complaints about the alleged “unauthorised use” of the party’s state council membership list to send emails critical of an ongoing Pentecostal membership drive, which was first revealed by InDaily in June.

The investigation targeted a series of widely-distributed emails objecting to the influx of Right-aligned Evangelical-based members, many of whose applications were frozen pending a separate audit by party headquarters.

One of the emails, addressed to Meldrum and signed by “Bruce and Jenny”, declares: “You need to take action to prevent a takeover of the SA Division.”

“Signing up Pentecostal members in an attempt to take-over is not ‘democracy’ in action, it is using a reactionary minority group to take control (and in the process, impose their views on the majority),” it said.

The email included several articles about the negative electoral impact of a similar Pentecostal influx in West Australian branches, marked as being sourced by the WA Parliamentary Library.

A second email, signed ‘NotHappyJan2021’, was directed at Mayo federal electorate conference president Rowan Mumford, saying: “I am angry about the way you are leading the Mayo team.”

“You are involved in introducing hard-right Pentecostal Christians into the party [which] is causing a lot of friction.”

InDaily can reveal the investigation is now complete – but no further action will be taken against the authors of the emails, after Meldrum conceded membership contact lists were already widely distributed within the party.

However, the party’s state executive has agreed on measures to crack down on future “misuse”, including “tightening the distribution of party membership lists to individual private email addresses, including being password protected and encrypted”.

“Party-wide communication [will] be sent out to remind all members of the need to respect the confidentiality of party membership lists that have been provided to party unit leaders for specific purposes outlined in the Constitution, and failure to do so will lead to disciplinary action,” Meldrum said in her investigation report.

“This matter has now been resolved to the satisfaction of the State Executive and no further action needs to be taken.”

Meldrum’s report said her “inquiry into the unauthorised use of membership lists was thorough and involved requests for information and meetings, with legal representation present in some cases”.

“The inquiry revealed that both emails in question were sent by individuals who were members of the party – the individuals can be best described as inexperienced members of the party, who were given access to the lists in the past for a different purpose,” she said.

“The individuals are not paid staff from an electorate office.”

Meldrum’s report said the email authors “confirmed that they circulated the membership information only within party membership”.

“They considered they were entitled to do this,” she said.

“They did not share that information with anybody outside of the party [and] considered that they were acting in a ‘whistleblower’ capacity, to distribute information about activity concerning the rapid increase in membership that they truly believed was not in the interest of the party.”

She said they “remained anonymous for fear of reprisal, but the expression of concern relayed in the emails was genuine”.

The emails prompted angry responses from some recipients, including requests for a formal investigation.

Right-faction powerbroker and federal MP Tony Pasin told NewsCorp at the time the email to Mumford was “a cowardly attack on a hardworking Liberal Party volunteer and potentially amounts to serious criminal behaviour”.

Both emails were later tabled in parliament by centre-Right Kavel MP Dan Cregan, who said at the time that “members of our community have approached me to express their concerns regarding recent membership recruitment activities in our party”.

“I am taking the step of addressing parliament to ensure that the important privileges this House affords me as a representative are also extended to all people who have approached me in relation to this matter and related matters,” he said, adding that he had “been impressed with the leadership of Mr Rowan Mumford [who] is seeking to ensure a balanced, fair and equitable response to the matters raised so that there can be continuing confidence in all the work of this government”.

Cregan – who has since announced his retirement from parliament after only one term, but is understood to be reconsidering his decision – did not comment to InDaily today.

Meldrum’s report said that since the factional firestorm provoked by the emails, “the individuals [who sent them] now understand the concern their actions caused members and the party, and they have expressed that they regret the manner in which they approached this issue – which they acknowledge was unorthodox”.

“They felt this was the only way they could raise their concerns,” she said.

She noted that the party constitution held that “names and contact details of members of the Division shall be confidential and not available to any person other than the State Director”, but conceded these lists were widely available to various sections of the party, including the president, secretary or membership officer of any branch, state or federal electorate conference and party committees such as Liberal Women, Rural and Regional and the Young Liberal Movement, as well as to MPs, senators, MLCs, paired members of parliament, endorsed candidates, nominees for preselection and the president or vice-presidents of the party.

“The inquiry revealed that in the past there has been wide distribution of membership lists for various purposes, including gaining support for positions within the party or preselection support,” Meldrum conceded.

“This wide distribution has resulted in the unauthorised or misuse of lists in the matter above.”

The party therefore “advises all nominees for preselection and candidates for executive positions that the lists are confidential and are not to be shared with anyone else, nor used for purposes other than to canvass for members’ support ahead of the College meeting.”

One Liberal insider told InDaily the party had “admitted it would have real trouble bringing any disciplinary action – let alone other proceedings – because it stuffed up in three big ways”.

“First, it didn’t keep and treat the information confidentially; second, it didn’t tell members they couldn’t communicate with each other this way; and third, only members themselves had the list – nobody outside the party did,” they said.

The Right faction’s recruitment drive will be tested at next month’s SA party AGM, when the conservative wing will make a concerted play for a majority on the state executive.

They will be bolstered by extra numbers from a clean sweep of the party’s women’s council last week, which is understood to have been facilitated by the presence of the faction’s newly-recruited members.

Internal tensions will also be strained by ongoing uncertainty about the future of Right-aligned Waite MP Sam Duluk, who is expected to face a renewed parliamentary inquiry into his behaviour at a parliament house Christmas drinks event in December 2019, despite yesterday being found not guilty of assaulting SA Best MLC Connie Bonaros at the function.

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