ABC: Faceless Men & Black Lives Matter

16 JUNE 2020

Topics: Adem Somyurek; ALP Reform; Black Lives Matter

PATRICIA KARVELAS: State and federal preselections in the Victorian branch of the Labor Party have been suspended following explosive allegations of branch-stacking involving sacked State Government Minister, Adem Somyurek. Former Federal Cabinet Minister Jenny Macklin and former Premier Steve Bracks will conduct a review of the Victorian branch including a full audit of memberships. The scandal has already claimed two more ministers in the Victorian State Government and now threatens to embroil federal Victorian Labor MPs as well. All three Victorian State MPs, including Mr. Somyurek, have rejected allegations of wrongdoing. Former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd has been a longtime critic of Labor’s factions. I spoke to him a short time ago and asked him if an audit of the party’s Victorian membership was a good starting point.

KEVIN RUDD: I think it’s necessary to get to the facts of what transpired. We’ve had Somyurek’s claims about the extent of his branchstacking influence in Victoria. We should take those seriously at first blush, but I think just getting to the tin tacks of how far these polling practices have extended is the right and necessary way to go.

KARVELAS: Options reportedly on the table are a federal takeover of preselections. What would that entail and is there likely to be much support for that?

RUDD: That I can’t comment on because I’m not familiar with the internal workings of the Victorian branch. But if the audit of the branch records proves that Somyurek has hadas he claims and as has been claimed about himindustrial scale activity, then it follows that you need some other body to take over the preselection processes. Because remember, party preselections and subsequent advancement into the executive of parliamentary partiesboth state and federalthat’s where the source of power for factional power brokers lies. And that’s why it needs to be snapped.

KARVELAS: How common was branchstacking during your time in politics, and is it fair to say, you know, it happens on all sides of politics?

RUDD: I think it’s fair to say that if you look, for example, at the Liberal Party in New South Wales and the massive fight between the socalled moderates in New South Walesthat is the left wing of the Liberal Party and the conservatives run by some, as it were, church affiliated groups, on the rightthat there has been, shall we say, industrious activity in terms of branch development by the Liberal Party. Now, in the case of the Labor Party, you’re right Patricia, this has existed in the past. What is remarkable however, about the reporting so far of the Somyurek affair, is its alleged scale, and alsothe purported influence which this individual has had on the selection of individual candidates for higher office within the party. That’s why we need to get to the bottom of it.

KARVELAS: If someone controls 4000 votes in a political party with 16,000 members, as Mr. Somyurek claims to have done, how much power does that actually give them?

RUDD: Well, I went to school in Queensland, and we did primary and high school mathematics, so I’d say at least 25%. But the bottom line is, Patricia, is that when you have keenly contested local preselections at the council, state and federal level, an ability to move a block of votes matters. And this goes to the heart of the problem in either side of politics when you have unelected factional power brokers relying upon an artificial inflation of branch numbers to prop up their internal political power within an organisation, so that ultimately they can threaten others. I’ve had some experience of this in terms of the factional shenanigans, which ultimately culminated in the coup 10 years ago, against the then democratically elected Prime Minister of the country.

KARVELAS: Were you surprised by Adem Somyurek’s claim that he was protecting the Opposition Leader, Anthony Albanese?

RUDD: I think that’s deliberate factional overlord overclaim: (a) Mr. Albanese, as you know comes from a different state, New South Wales, and (b) when Albo says he wouldn’t know Somyurek if he fell over him, that strikes me as right. For example, I’ve seen some photographs of myself with Somyurek, but if you asked me to pick him up in a line up, I couldn’t do so. Namely because people who are active in the Labor Party usually sidle up to the leader of the day for photographs. That’s what they do.

KARVELAS: Former federal Cabinet Minister, Jenny Macklin, who worked closely with you, and former Premier Steve Bracks are tippedto lead this review of the Victorian ALP. But should it be done outside of VictoriaI’m not asking you to reflect on those two individualsbut just the idea that it sort of happens outside of Victoria, given everyone knows each other in a particular state orbranch?

RUDD: Well, if the proposal was for someone who I would describe as Arthur Dodgy, to go in and have a look at the circumstances to produce an Arthur Dodgy report, I’d be concerned. But those of us who have known both Bracks and Macklin over 10 to 20 years, know that they are individuals of the highest integrity. I do not think they’llbe in the business of as it were, cutting favours for individuals within the system. So, given the nature of these two individuals, I have confidence in fact, if that is where the decision goes, that they’llproduce a report of complete integrity.

KARVELAS: Should this surveillance operation that targeted Somyurek and his allies also be investigated? I know that that’s been contentious, the way that this was actually delivered in the media.

RUDD: Oh look, that’s a matter for the police and judicial authorities, and the provisions of relevant Acts and legislation. I’mnot about to comment on that. How you folk in the media do your job is a matter of continuing mystery to the likes of me, Patricia, but the bottom line is the report was done. The findings were direct. And as a consequence of that, we’ve seen three Ministers correctly resign or one in the case of Somyurek dismissed by Premier Daniel Andrews of Victoria. But on these other matters, I think the authorities will look at those in due course.

KARVELAS: You’ve called for the elimination of factions for the ALP. Do you think there’s a widespread desire for that within the party, or what sort of opportunity does this particular crisis provide for the party?

RUDD: You know, every now and then in the party’s history, Patricia, when Whitlam was elected, when Hawke was elected, when I was elected as Prime Minister, you have a natural and legitimate surge of interest on the part of women and men, young and old, to join and become active in the Australian Labor Party. It is these people who are ultimately dispirited and discouraged when they see evidence of the type we’ve just seen with Somyurek, whereby the internal rules of the Labor Party are used and abused in order to seek the advancement of particular individuals. So in order to, as it were, nourish the natural enthusiasm of our members across the country, it’s really important that not only is branchstacking on this sort of industrial scale eliminated, but it’s also important that you remove the incentives for branchstacking which is a faction based system which elevates factional heavyweights based on their numbersas opposed to people who put their name forward in the party based on their talent, their ability, their ideas, their ideals, on their ability to articulate those before the Australian people, on how we further advanced the country. That’s where the judgment should lie not in some crude backroom arrangement. You can always spot, Patricia, when things are off in any political party – Liberal or Labor – when all this stuff is done very secretively, very furtively and in the dark. Nothing wrong with a bit of transparency, and people should be selected on the basis of their merits.

KARVELAS: Look, there’s another story that’s broken. Two South Australian police officers have been placed on administrative duty. An investigation has been launched as well after a video was posted to Facebook showing an Indigenous man held to the ground and hit several times by officers on Monday night. This of course, in the wake of the Black Lives Matter movement. What are your reflections on that movement and its calls?

RUDD: Well, my deep sympathies lie with the Black Lives Matter movement, fundamentally. And that’s because Indigenous people in this country, throughout our settled history, have been delivered a raw deal. And so people like Morrison and Downer, claiming that we don’t have any history of slavery in this country, and the technical definitions of slavery they hide behind. I mean, give us a break. SoIndigenous people have had a rough time. There have been forward moves in terms of the proper recognition of Indigenous rights, theland rights generation, our generationin terms of closing the gap. But when you start pulling out massive slabs of funding from, for example, the Closing The Gap initiatives by this conservative government over the last seven years, is it any wonder we fall behind in the realization of Closing The Gap targets? So, on this question of Indigenous justice, on this question of the utterly disproportionate incarceration rate, and on these questions of Aboriginal deaths in custody, my sympathies really do belong with this movement. I don’t know the details of the South Australian matter you’ve just referred to. But you know something it’s time we as a nation turned wrongs to right on this question, and don’t put it to one side.

KARVELAS: That was former Labor Prime Minister Kevin Rudd.