The Victorian Liberal Party is trying to change the rules that govern its party. The document to the left makes a compelling case for reform that is being pushed by Party President David Kemp, the 104 Secretariat and many members from the Kroger faction.
Few want to be so directly associated with opposing the reforms, including Leader Ted Baillieu and his factional ally David Davis.
But the changes are so far-reaching that a strong opposition to elements of the package has seemed inevitable. The most important change being shifting the focus of power in the party from individual branches to individual members.
VEXNEWS has obtained an email that sets out the case of some who oppose the change who have called themselves “Save the Party”:
We are a group of ordinary branch members from the Liberal Party. This is a plea to all of our parliamentarians to help us save the party on October 12. We urge you to hear our voice and join with us in voting no to this radical agenda.
We understand it has been sent to all state Liberal MPs and is being more widely circulated this week.
THE PROCESS IS FUNDAMENTALLY FLAWED
The process behind the radical “Liberal Renewal” upheaval of our party is completely flawed for a number of reasons.
An elitist agenda
We are told that this radical upheaval of the party represents the sum of what ordinary branch members desire for our party. This is a false statement, given that ordinary branch members are expressing shock at the actual details. Those behind this push have long argued for a massive upheaval of the party, both on and off the record. It is no coincidence that the conclusion of the Futures Committee aligns perfectly with their desires.
Asking the wrong questions to the wrong people
The questions asked in the Futures Committee survey were designed to elicit a pre-packaged response. It was always apparent that the survey could be used to justify the radical agenda that those behind this wanted to set. Further, the survey was directed to the wrong people. Those people whose response mattered most were those who had left the party, or who wanted to join the party but couldn’t, or who vote Liberal but don’t join the party, or are swinging voters generally.
Using emotion instead of reason
Branch members are angry, saddened and very disappointed by the fall of the Howard Government. Had it not happened, Peter Costello, a great Victorian, would almost certainly now be Prime Minister. We are also bitter that first, Steve Bracks, and now, John Brumby is our state premier, when we know that Jeff Kennett, Denis Napthine, Robert Doyle or Ted Baillieu would be so much better. Dr Kemp is playing on these understandable emotions to bully us into rushing through this radical upheaval of our party. Yet such a radical upheaval will not reverse the heartbreaking losses of the past, nor would they have prevented them had they been forced upon us years earlier. We must not allow our hurt or despair to prevent us making sensible and rational decisions, rather than engaging in drastic change for the sake of drastic change.
An unfair timeline
The timeline involved is unfair to all of us. It is unfair because ordinary branch members still don’t have in their hands the new radical Constitution that is proposed. It is the detail that matters most, not broad sentiment about how “the party is dying”. Any branch member taking his or her responsibility seriously would need many months to examine the detail. And then we would need many hours to debate with each other the precise details of each proposal. As a party, we have always taken constitutional reform seriously. Only a few years ago, we spent over 2 hours debating the 70/30 rule. That is the right way to develop the Constitution. That is true “reform”. But what we have now is not reform, it is radical upheaval.. How can we realistically be asked to junk the entire constitution that we have built up over time for some 20 – 30 years, and replace it with a complete unknown in a matter of hours?
An impossible timeline
The timeline is not only unfair, it is also impossible. The new Constitution will have to be written in a matter of weeks. We are starting a new party from scratch. It is impossible to foresee the hundreds of problems that this will create. We will be spending the next decade trying to plug all the gaps and problems that eventuate. If there is a particular problem with the current Constitution, why not do what we have always done? We should present the problem at State Council, debate it, and then alter the relevant provision. This radical upheaval is the least appropriate way of moving forward.
Misguided intentions of the advocates
Those advocating this upheaval of the party have misguided intentions. The most vocal supporters of it want it passed so that if and when it is passed, they can then claim a role in its passage, and demand rewards for that achievement in the years to come. They are also very keen to avoid any association with an unsuccessful coup. It is unfair to ordinary branch members that this underlying agenda is not disclosed. Further, there is also a sneaky suspicion amongst ordinary branch members that many of those want this upheaval have done the sums and believe it is to their advantage.
Debate has been stifled
It is apparent that most members of parliament are against these proposals. They are saying so to their branch members. And behind closed doors, ordinary branch members are also against them. Yet no one is prepared to speak out in public. Even we are not prepared to reveal our identity.
The reasons for this are most unfortunate. There is an atmosphere in the party that people must never speak out against the leadership of the party. It was an atmosphere created by the “blog-gate” scandal, and continues to carry out in petty media bickering. It is an atmosphere that says anyone who has a different perspective in the party will be accused of disloyalty, and treated accordingly. Members of Parliament are therefore scared to voice their concerns because they will be accused of disloyalty, or of comprising a ï¿½cancerous cellï¿½. We saw recently how Ted Baillieu was implicitly threatened in the media over these reforms, the suggestion being that if he did not support them, he would be accused of disloyalty and his leadership would be in danger.
There is absolutely nothing wrong with speaking out against these reforms. People who do should not be shouted down, accused of disloyalty, or accused of contributing to the death of the party. It is not true!
MEMBERS OF PARLIAMENT ARE UNDER THREAT
We are concerned about what this radical upheaval means for our current Members of Parliament for a number of reasons.
Lack of respect for our candidates and members of parliaments
Our Members of Parliament are far superior to those who belong to the ALP. And our candidates are always better. It breaks many of our hearts to see our superior team lose on election-day. If anything, it serves as a reminder that the quality of candidate does not determine electoral success.
Ordinary branch members admire and respect the current members of parliament. We put you there and we want you to remain there. To advocate a massive upheaval of the pre-selection process is to suggest that you are inadequate and must be replaced. After all, a completely different process will produce completely different outcomes. And if it does not produce different outcomes, then why do it?
Our current members of parliament will be purged
Those people who are currently responsible for pre-selecting candidates were those who had the trust of their local branch, were active and committed enough to earn that trust, were generally active, and had a good deal of experience about the qualities needed in a potential member of parliament. They are people we used to trust to have the best interests of the party at heart.
We will replace that body with every single member on the books in a local area. These will include people who may never have been to a liberal party gathering in their life, who don’t know a single other person in the party, or who have very narrow agendas. There is nothing necessarily wrong with these people (although there is potential for people who do not have the party’s best interests at heart to automatically earn a right to pre-select our candidates), but they are essentially different. And a different body of pre-selectors means that we will have different candidates, different to those we currently have. This upheaval amounts to a purge of current members of parliament, and as ordinary party members, we don’t like it.
Our members of parliament will focus less time on winning government
This radical upheaval of the party will not produce better candidates. As a rule, politics does not attract society’s best. This is because politics is not enticing. There are very long hours, the pressure is constant, the pay is poor, job security is lacking, privacy is non-existent, reputations can be shot, the decision-making process is often frustrating and unproductive, the agenda is set by others, and that’s before we consider the presence of the media and opinion polls.
And then there is the relationship a member of parliament must have with party members. At the moment, we think the balance is about right. But this radical upheaval of the party will mean that members of parliament have to concentrate on communicating with and retaining the support of over 300 local members. This is good in theory, but in practice, it represents an extraordinary drain on time and resources. There was an accusation at the last state election that some members of parliament spent too much time shoring up local support. This radical upheaval of the party will only dramatically increase the time spent on “doing the numbers”. This represents a disaster, especially for a party in opposition.
More importantly, it makes politics even less enticing. The odds are not good as it stands. But telling a potential candidate that they have to visit, win over, and then retain the support of, more than 300 members will not have candidates banging on our doors. Good people simply don’t have the time or inclination to do this.
Pre-selections determined by head office
It is quite possible that any of the following seats may never have a pre-selection, with the candidate instead chosen by head office.
– Murray Valley
– Gippsland East
– Gippsland South
– Yan Yean
– Narre Warren North
– Ferntree Gully
– Bendigo West
This is lunacy on a grand scale. It is reason enough to vote no on October 12.
Pre-selections will be dominated by money, spin, and the media
Radical upheaval of the type proposed will make the process unseemly. Candidates will be forced to use the media to assist them in an attempt to break through to over 300 local members. We currently ban this because we know it is bad. But such a process will only encourage it.
There is also a suggestion that only those with money could afford such a draining process. The worst thing for the image of our party would be to only have candidates that are considered rich or “toffs”. Although it is unfair, such accusations often form the focus of advertisement campaigns against us, and they are very effective.
Finally, there is a suggestion that making the process this way will force us to parachute star candidates into the party. But the “stars” never quite turn out that way. We know the ALP does this, and it leads to bad representation for the local community. The future stars of the Liberal Party are already in the party, they are not coaching AFL teams, they are not leading the police union, and they are not appearing on gimmicky reality shows..
Evidence in other states and the ALP is not good
The radical upheaval proposed will make the Liberal Party more like the ALP, and like interstate liberal divisions. But their pre-selections are worse than ours. And there is no evidence that other divisions, or the ALP, are attracting more candidates or better candidates, or that they are performing as well as us in terms of membership or participation.
The creation of local fiefdoms, ALP style
It won’t happen immediately, but to create a system modeled on the ALP is to inevitably end up with the same problems: local factional fiefdoms, infiltrated by ethnic and sport-club branch stacking.
WE WILL HAVE LESS MEMBERS WITH LESS DIVERSITY
An underclass of membership
If this radical upheaval occurs, we will create an underclass of member. If you live in a safe liberal electorate (such as Hawthorn) you will be able to participate in the Hawthorn pre-selection, and the Kooyong pre-selection. You will also have a greater chance of being a member of state wide bodies, meaning you will a good chance of being selected to participate in state upper house and Senate pre-selections. Further, because of the size of local pre-selections in these areas, participation by locals will be exclusive. The result is that such members become important, valued, listened to by members of parliament, courted and welcomed.
If you live in a marginal or safe Labor electorate, however, there will be no local pre-selections. You will also have a very slim chance of being a member of state-wide bodies, meaning you also won’t get to participate in state upper house and Senate pre-selections. Such members will be ignored by the party. They will disappear. To invite them to nonetheless become a branch member in a marginal or safe seat (but without any voting rights) is an insult to them.
Less diversity in the party membership
The creation of an underclass of membership means less people from marginal or safe Labor seats will join our party. These people are young, hungry, hard-working, come from diverse backgrounds, they are aspirational, home-owners, and experience the daily struggles of balancing family and work. These people should be given the freedom to join the party in a marginal seat (we already have adequate safeguards). Without this freedom of mobility, we lose these people for good.
Networks will be destroyed
The best way to recruit people is to ask a friend or relative or colleague to join the party with you in your electorate. But unless they happen to live near you, that network will be lost for good. No one wants to join the party in an area where they don’t know anybody. And it is an insult to suggest that they can still join a branch, but without any voting entitlements.
A lack of competition and alternatives in party forums
We all know that some pockets of the party can become rotten. Bad apples exist in any organization. But under the current system, if you are unfortunate enough to land in a branch that is rotten, you can transfer to another branch, and still participate in a meaningful way. This creates healthy competition amongst the branches, and serves as a check and balance. But under the proposed radical upheaval of the party, you are stuck in the electorate that you live. If your Electorate Council (the only body that will now have any significance) happens to rot away, there is nothing that can be done. You will be stuck with it. Your only refuge will be to leave the party. Bullying will be encouraged by those who desire smaller memberships.
No more incentives to attract and retain members
Branch membership hovers just above 20. The reason is simple; it is necessary in order for the branch to participate in any meaningful way in the party. But the upheaval of the party eliminates this incentive. In fact, the incentive for so-called power brokers is a membership that is as small as possible. Many people who work hard to attract or retain members to keep their branch above 20 members will no longer do so. Numbers will drop very quickly very fast, and we will no longer have their membership fees to use. There is no doubt that, soon enough, many electorate councils will be hovering just above 20 members.
The party will become cold and heartless
One of the joys of the party is attending branch meetings at someone’s home. A party elder opens their home to you, and like-minded people gather in the warmth of their lounge room to discuss policy and the party. They mingle, enjoy each other’s company, learn new things, and share a nice meal or refreshments. We must not denigrate this system. It is the best thing about us.
But under this radical upheaval, the heart and warmth of the party disappears. Instead, they will be replaced with community hall meetings, cold and heartless, with plastic chairs, and too many people. It will be an intimidating environment. The loud, aggressive and domineering will control these forums, as will the young upstarts who believe they are the next Prime Minister of the nation. Those who are elderly, shy, or reserved, and generally the best-intentioned, will feel left out. Soon enough, they will stop going. And they won’t have a branch to go to, because people will stop running branches as the incentive for them will disappear.
Country members are being ignored
If you live in the country, there is the potential that your relevant electorate meetings will be hundreds of kilometers away. Many people simply won’t attend. To suggest that this does not matter because branches can still exist is a facade. Why would a branch remain active when the sole incentive for its existence (the election of delegates) is removed? This radical upheaval is city-centric, devised by people who have never had the experience of being a member in the country.
THIS IS A CONFUSING AND LOGISTICAL NIGHTMARE
There are still further arguments against this radical upheaval of the party
New party members will be greeted with the most complicated structure yet devised for our party. They can be member of any branch, in any location, and they can have more than one membership. But they will also be a local member, and it is only that locality that determines their true status in the party. People will no doubt be enthusiastic and join many branches. They will spread themselves too thinly. We will lose the traditional path which was people concentrating on their one branch.
An expensive and logistical nightmare
Assume that there are hundreds of new people who will join the party once Dr Kemp forces through this radical upheaval. Assume further that there are hundreds of people who are inactive but will now become active. Where will all these meeting be held? They will all have to be held at external venues. This costs time, money and creates an administrative burden. And local venues who know that we must have these meetings will charge large prices. We will be held to ransom by greedy, external organisations.
Holding good ideas hostage to a radical agenda
Some good ideas are being suggested. Good and simple ideas. Things like creating a better website, giving new members more information, improving dialogue with new members, creating interest-group branches, and so on. But these things don’t need Constitutional amendment. Yet they are being held hostage to a radical constitutional agenda.
Misleading people into thinking this is a factional issue
Ordinary branch members are also being confused by suggestions that this is a factional issue. People who would ordinarily vote with a faction (as anyone is entitled to do in a political party) are being told that this is a factional issue. But it is not. Many MPs from a variety of groups are privately saying they do not support this. As are ordinary branch members from across the divide. People need to look beyond the identity of key advocates of this approach and assess the evidence and the reasoning. They will quickly see there isn’t any.
Many of these suggestions are completely arbitrary.. Why are the cut-offs where they are? The fact is they are completely arbitrary, determined in a ham-fisted manner. Why must people be members for 2 years before they can vote in a pre-selection, instead of 1 or 3 or 5 years? Why is the cut off for state council participation where it is? And how did we arrive at the percentages? These are crucial decisions, and yet we have no debate, and no input from a wide body. We saw in the 70/30 debate how important it is to get the figure right, and we need to debate each of them so that we can hear all perspectives and get it right. But that will be impossible under the radical upheaval that is being suggested.
Adding to much of the confusion is the complete lack of consistency. Why is the method for pre-selection different between the lower houses and the upper houses? If the justification for the former is the need to ensure greater participation, why does that argument not apply to the latter? If logistics are ignored for the former, why are they determinative in the latter?
And there is one further massive inconsistency. How can a party that takes itself to the electorate by proudly boasting to be the upholders of conservatism, who argues against radical change for the sake of radical change, completely junk its entire constitution, effectively kill of everything it has and create something new in its place, and then seem credible to the electorate?
SAVE THE PARTY – VOTE NO!!!
No way will a new Constitution win us any more votes at the next election. No way will a single person want to join the party because we have a new Constitution. But we will certainly lose members. And by that, we will lose votes.
To completely revolutionise the party is wrong. It is disrespectful to branch members. It is disrespectful to our members of parliament. And it is disrespectful to previous State Councils who finely tuned our Constitution into the form it takes today.
Don’t be fooled by rhetorical flushes on October 12. And don’t be taken in by threats about how bad things will look in the media if the reforms don’t go through. We are a party if principle, not a party that is dictated to by the media. Look at the lack of the evidence, look at the lack of reason, and help us save the party. Vote no!