A group of Victorian unions has escalated a threat to take legal action against the federal Labor party over its intervention in the Victorian branch following allegations of widespread branch stacking by former state minister Adem Somyurek.
On Monday the Construction Forestry Maritime Mining and Energy Union’s Victorian branch – which is lead by John Setka – issued a statement on behalf of five unions warning they “are considering legal action against the ALP national executive’s intervention … ahead of meetings with Victorian premier Daniel Andrews”.
The statement – which said the unions’ solicitors are “preparing to file legal action” but stops short of committing them to take it – was interpreted as a bid to pressure Andrews over talks to guarantee unions’ rights and representation in the party will be maintained despite the intervention.
Earlier in June, the extraordinary federal intervention appointed Steve Bracks and Jenny Macklin as administrators of the ALP’s Victorian branch to prepare a final report on restructuring the branch by November 2020.
The motion passed by the national executive also noted that Andrews had asked that “all voting rights in the Victorian branch be suspended at least until 2023” and committed it to exercise its powers to conduct “all preselections for the next federal and state elections”.
The move was triggered by a 60 Minutes report that investigated allegations Somyurek, the disgraced rightwing state powerbroker, orchestrated the payment of party memberships in a mass branch-stacking operation in Victoria. Somyurek has rejected claims of branch stacking and would be “providing a rigorous defence during any party process”.
In the statement, an unidentified CFMMEU executive said “while we agree with premier Andrews’ swift action and support the cleaning up of the party, we fail to understand a three-year process”.
“Members and unions pay millions of dollars supporting the party and are entitled to their democratic rights.
“This isn’t a one-party state, unnecessarily removing democratic votes from members is just not Australian.
“It would be embarrassing if it took three years to ‘clean up’ the party considering the number of branch members.”
The other unions named as potential parties to the challenge are the Maritime Union of Australia, itself now a division of the CFMMEU, the Rail Tram and Bus Union, the Health Workers Union and the Plumbers Union.
Those unions support a census of party members over the next six months, with a further two months to review, propose and implement changes needed to rectify corruption, it said.
The basis of a possible challenge is not identified, although the CFMMEU claims that “leading law experts at the Victorian Bar have detailed the possible illegality of the intervention”.
Any challenge would face a number of legal hurdles, including the Victorian Supreme Court’s August 2019 ruling that enforcing the rules of political parties is not an exception to the rule that courts should not meddle in internal disputes of voluntary unincorporated associations.
In that case, Setka unsuccessfully attempted to challenge a decision of the ALP’s national executive to expel him over behaviour Labor leader Anthony Albanese said had brought the party into disrepute, including comments denigrating the work of anti-violence campaigner Rosie Batty, which Setka denied.
The ALP’s national constitution gives the national executive the power to overrule, intervene, take over or direct the conduct of the affairs of any state branch or section, and to conduct any preselection that would otherwise have been decided by the state branch or section.