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Politics

Labor dismisses rule breach claims after divisive ballot

Politics

State Labor tensions continue to simmer after a divisive internal ballot, amid ongoing recriminations over the way the votes were counted and claims the party’s own campaign rules were breached.

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Former senator Chris Schacht insists Left and Right faction powerbrokers did not formally object to a contentious interpretation of new rules designed to empower rank and file members in internal party ballots.

The Party’s Returning Officer Jennifer Allison determined that the new rule – designed to give ordinary party members the same influence on preselections as unions and sub-branch delegates – was worded such that rank and file votes should be counted as a proportion of the total number of eligible members.

Left luminary Penny Wong yesterday demanding the party act “immediately” to change the rule, saying the interpretation was “perverse” and that “party members will be rightly disappointed that the rule has been drafted and interpreted in a way that undermines” its original intention.

However, Schacht – a prominent backer of losing Legislative Council hopeful Ben Browne, who was running as a factionally-unaligned candidate – argues the Left, whose candidates Kyam Maher and Ian Hunter easily won the rank-and-file vote, made no such complaints before the ballot was counted.

“They only became heroes for the rank and file after the ballot was counted – not before,” he told InDaily.

Labor’s state executive met last Monday over a Zoom meeting, where the Returning Officer briefed senior officials about her interpretation of the ballot rules.

InDaily has been told that the meeting was called specifically to discuss the contentious ruling at the request of Left-aligned officials.

Sources present say “significant concerns” were raised about Allison’s interpretation, but Schacht insists “there was no resolution moved or formal objection to her interpretation”.

Sources say it would not have been appropriate to challenge the Returning Officer’s discretion, but Schacht said: “Why didn’t they move a resolution at the state executive to have it recorded that they opposed the interpretation?”

The candidates themselves and their scrutineers were not informed of the ballot process until the following day, with Schacht insisting “not one member of the Left objected to her ruling – it was left to myself and [former Attorney-General] Chris Sumner as scrutineers for Ben Browne to object strongly”.

“I was somewhat surprised at Penny Wong’s remarks about supporting a change of the interpretation of the rule, when the Left delegates at state executive a week ago and their scrutineers at the count never formally disagreed with the Returning Officer’s interpretation,” he said.

“The only people that disagreed with her were the scrutineers for Ben Browne…

“It’s only after they got the result that they’re now saying they want to challenge the Returning Officer’s interpretation by changing the rule.”

Schacht has previously served as a Labor state secretary. A member of the Centre Left faction, he lost his senate seat after being demoted on the party ticket – in the same preselection that saw Wong enter federal parliament.

InDaily understands Browne and Brett Rankine, who unsuccessfully challenged the Left’s endorsed candidate Rhiannon Pearce in the lower house seat of King, both lodged formal complaints about the preselection campaign, alleging the Left breached the party’s own guidelines.

Left convenor Karen Grogan wrote to members of the PLUS [Progressive Left Unions and Sub-branches] faction in September, telling them the faction had endorsed Maher, Hunter and Pearce as their candidates and providing a How To Vote card.

The ALP’s campaigning guidelines stipulate that “candidates cannot campaign or canvass for support via email [as] we do not want members to be bombarded with campaigning emails as this may result in the blocking/unsubscribing from ALP distribution lists and members then may miss important ALP information after the ballot”.

“Candidates sending a campaign or canvassing email to members may result in the candidate being disqualified from the ballot,” the guidelines continue.

A letter from Browne to party officials, seen by InDaily, said: “Prima facie it would appear that the rules/guidelines governing the ballots of members for both the seat of King and the Legislative Council have been breached, in that an email has been distributed to an as yet unknown number of party members encouraging them to follow the PLUS How To Vote card to elect certain candidates, contrary to the rules of the party.”

However, InDaily understands the State Executive has since dismissed that complaint, taking the view that Grogan was not herself a candidate.

The guidelines also prohibit candidates using “automated or paid commercial call-centre-based telephone canvassing”, which some in the party have claimed may have been breached by several mass-distribution SMS messages promoting the Left ticket.

That too is unlikely to be taken further, although it’s been suggested the guidelines will be reviewed to specifically address the use of mass-distribution text messaging.

ALP leader Peter Malinauskas, who initially drove the voting rule changes when he led the shop workers union, said today: “Penny and I are on a unity ticket in terms of the way the rule was intended to operate, and it needs to be fixed.”

He said he believed the most appropriate time to do that was at the next state convention, likely to be held early next year.

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