Capitalist ‘democracy’ normalises branch stacking, pork barrelling

October 27, 2021
Image: New York World, 1917.

The Victorian Labor Party’s branch stacking scandal and the corruption investigations into key figures in the New South Wales Liberal Party highlights how undemocratic the major parties are.

Both parties serve corporate interests and are headed by people who are in it for themselves.

Corruption is not an accidental feature of these parties, nor the result of individual greed or weakness. It is a structural feature of a system geared to protecting the interests of a few at the expense of the many, and cannot be ended without revolutionary change.

When grilled by the Victorian Independent Broad-based Anti-corruption Commission (IBAC) about his role in branch stacking, Banyule Council Mayor Rick Garotti said he had learned how to do it as part of learning how the party worked.

He said he had hoped to enter parliament and understanding this was part of that “journey”.

Garotti’s evidence followed on from federal Labor MP Anthony Byrne’s explosive allegations on October 11 about widespread branch stacking. Byrne revealed that he had been doing this by paying thousands of dollars in membership fees for members since 1999.

Byrne’s branch-stacking operation was part of right-wing power broker and sacked Victorian MP Adem Somyurek’s extensive operation. Somyurek learnt the ropes while working for Byrne. Somyurek’s extensive branch stacking operation was revealed when secret recordings became public last year.

IBAC’s role is to investigate whether any illegal activity occurred, such as the misuse of public money or false information being given to the Australian Electoral Commission.

Branch stacking is against party rules, but it is not illegal.

While the evidence before the IBAC about branch stacking and the payment of other people’s membership fees is shocking, it isn’t new and it isn’t restricted to Labor.

The Age and Sydney Morning Herald revealed extensive branch stacking in Victoria last year in the Liberal Party as well as the Labor Party.

Its expose showed that such a process helped shift the Liberal Party further right by increasing the influence of the religious right. It also revealed that Liberal Party ministers Michael Sukkar and Kevin Andrews knew about the operation.

The NSW Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) is currently investigating whether former NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian used her position to advantage a Liberal colleague, with whom she was secretly in a relationship. While it is yet to make a finding, Berejiklian is on the record as saying that “pork barrelling” is not illegal.

Corruption and branch stacking is a symptom and not the cause of the problems with the pro-capitalist parties. It is an indication of their cynicism and the fact that they take party members and voters for granted.

It also shows that these parties don’t want members to really be playing an active role because that would more likely lead to greater transparency and scrutiny and put a brake on cynical power politics.

Ultimately, this cynical attitude stems from a system based on the accumulation of private property and which rewards those who profiteer from the labour of others. This applies across the board: from the fossil fuel corporations to large parts of the private health sector to the corporate media.

Even private companies that provide something vital like health, aged or disability care, are motivated by profit — not what is in the interests of their clients.

This power-broker style politics is necessary for a system which relies on robbing the wealth created by workers and transferring it to the richest 1%.

Cutting the corporate tax rate, penalising workers for taking industrial action and privatising public services assists in this grotesque transfer of wealth.

Capitalism needs parties and politicians capable of selling such anti-working class policies to the masses.

This means that aspiring political operators in the major parties learn that, if they want a career, they must sign up to a politics based on power rather than political principles.

That includes making unconscionable preference deals, branch stacking, lying and treating voters with distain.

Alternatives to this sort of dead-end politics would include a federal ICAC. But much more is needed for real democracy.

Independent community action is needed if we are to force real transparency and accountability measures to be placed on MPs and to bust open the cosy deals between them and big corporations.

It is much harder for politicians to manipulate the political debate when mobilised communities demand real action be taken for their sake and that of the planet.

For people and the planet, we need to transform the economy and the dead-end political structures.

[Sue Bolton is a member of the Socialist Alliance national executive.]

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