Last week a scandal blew up in the face of the Australian Labor Party, claiming the scalps of three ministers and a shadow minister. Damning evidence uncovered the corrupt politics behind Daniel Andrews’ “progressive” Victorian government.
Central in this scandal is former Victorian Labor minister Adem Somyurek. He ran a ruthless and shady operation controlling power in the ALP. The scandal drew in multiple ALP figures in the Victorian, Federal and New South Wales parliaments.
Somyurek was overseeing “branch stacking” operations, signing up false members to branches of a political party to control decisions. These people usually have no real commitment and do as they are told. In many cases they are fraudulently signed up and paid for.
Branch votes decide who will run in elections and could deliver them seats in parliament, ultimately bringing power and money to those who can muster the most fake members.
Recordings showed attempts to forge signatures, use of fake addresses and paying fees for fake members. The corruption was made worse by Somyurek’s violent, sexist and homophobic language and arrogant boasts of impunity.
This type of scandal is not new to politics. There are many examples of corruption from the major pro-capitalist parties. The repulsive details of this scandal only confirm ordinary people’s rightful hatred of how “official politics” operates while millions are suffering from the recession.
Insiders admit that “branch stacking” is an open secret in the major parties. One anonymous Labor power broker told the media “much more” than a quarter of Labor’s Victorian members come from branch stacking.
Deplorable behaviour by Somyurek is not new either. He resigned from cabinet after being found bullying his staff in 2015 but was reinstated when Andrews was re-elected. Andrews referred to Somyurek as his “very good friend” at the time.
Importantly this exposes the rotten underbelly of Daniel Andrews government and shows how decayed the ALP is. The organised exposure of Somyurek, met by his vow to “bring down” more Labor politicians, says that this has opened a new round of messy internal ALP power struggles.
Reflecting the seriousness of this crisis, the ALP has gone further than just expelling Somyurek. Labor announced the suspension of members’ voting rights in Victoria. Instead the ALP’s national executive will select candidates for state and federal elections for three years.
Ironically the ALP’s national president Wayne Swan said that a solution to this crisis is “to expand membership, better democracy in the party”.
But Labor’s political corruption cannot be ‘fixed’ by reforms. It’s roots stretch back decades to the party’s total transformation into a political machine for the capitalist class.
This process started in the 1980s under Labor leaders Bob Hawke and Paul Keating. The ALP governments led by them introduced right-wing policies which boosted corporate profits at the expense of worker’s wages while undermining trade unions. Rudd and Gillard continued this.
Democratic paths within the ALP for ordinary members to challenge this transformation of the party were blocked. These processes together demoralised and disorientated thousands, ending any internal dynamism or life for working class activists in the ALP.
Decades later most ordinary people no longer see any practical difference between Labor and the Liberal-National coalition.
That’s why the ALP and many ex-workers’ parties like it around the world are empty shells, used by the big end of town as one of their options to swap in and out of power. Today the ALP is a perfect playground for power-hungry crooks like Somyurek and others.
This scandal once again highlights how urgent it is for working people to have a new political organisation of their own, worthy of support.
A new kind of organisation based on fighting for workers’ real interests would need to have genuinely democratic structures and practices that inspire ordinary people to join and be active. That could prevent it from being taken over by malicious forces.
It would need regular election of all party officials and representatives with wages capped at the average income of those working people they represent.
It would also need to rely entirely on money raised from its members and working class communities. Corporate donations would be rejected.
Ultimately this organisation would have to reject the profit-driven system of capitalism – a fundamentally corrupt and undemocratic system that put the profits of a minority over the needs of the majority.
By Triet Tran