How the impact of branchstacking in Victorian Labor differs to NSW Labor

With the fallout in Victorian Labor, attention has fallen on the practice of branchstacking. Branchstacking within political parties is not anything new and happens in all parties. The combination of low membership numbers and the closed, privately regulated nature of party preselections in Australia means it occurs but is usually only acted upon when the results go against the ruling grouping unless there is significant public scrutiny.

While other Labor state branches do have a history of branch stacking, the Victorian Labor rules provide particular incentives that do not exist, for example, within the New South Wales Labor rules.

In Victorian Labor, state and federal preselections (other than for the Senate) occur via a combination of a 50% local component from rank-and-file members and 50% votes from the Public Office Selection Committee (POSC). The 100 member POSC is elected by the State Conference which has 600 delegates.

Furthermore, the 300 rank-and-file delegates to State Conference are allocated to each federal electorate on the basis of the number of members in that electorate. The Federal Electorate Assembly (FEA) delegate results from 2019 give an indication of the divergent number of delegates each federal electorate gets, which reflects the likely location of stacking.

FEA Total Socialist Left Right Industrial Left Independents
Aston 3 0 3
Ballarat 7 5 2
Bendigo 6 3 1 2
Bruce 17 8 9
Calwell 16 6 10
Casey 3 1 2
Chisholm 6 1 4 1
Cooper 20 5 12 2 1
Corangamite 5 3 1 1
Corio 5 2 3
Deakin 3 1 2
Dunkley 5 4 1
Flinders 3 1 1 1
Fraser 20 1 19
Gellibrand 8 3 3 1 1
Gippsland 2 1 1
Goldstein 5 1 3 1
Gorton 12 5 7
Higgins 6 1 4 1
Holt 6 3 3
Hotham 11 2 8 1
Indi 2 0 2
Isaacs 6 3 3
Jagajaga 13 4 9
Kooyong 4 2 1 1
La Trobe 4 3 1
Lalor 6 3 3
Mallee 2 2
Maribyrnong 12 2 10
McEwen 5 2 3
Monash 3 1 1 1
Melbourne 14 8 3 1 2
Macnamara 12 4 6 2
Menzies 4 3 1
Nichols 2 0 2
Scullin 19 10 9
Wannon 3 1 2
Wills 20 4 15 1
Total 300 108 168 6 18

The party rules means that stacking in one geographic area has statewide implications for preselections because more State Conference delegates means more spots on the POSC, which can override the local component in preselections even if localised stacking does not result in a majority of the local vote. It results in horsetrading between groupings as a combination of enough of a local vote plus a bloc on the POSC can override the local component.

How does this differ to other states? Well NSW Labor is far from immune from branchstacking with historical examples in the inner city throughout the 1980s, Wollongong, Cabramatta, Liverpool and the Inner West in the 1990s and around Bondi in the mid-2000s. But where stacking occurred, its impact is more localised because of how preselections occur and the fixed number of indirectly-elected delegates from each state and federal electorate to NSW State Conference, regardless of the number of rank-and-file members who reside in an electorate. There is also no equivalent to the POSC, NSW Conference selecting the Upper House and Senate ticket.

The NSW Labor rules also include anti-stacking “tripwire” if five or more members apply to join a branch at one ordinary meeting or more than fifty members apply to join a branch at one formation meeting that freezes this. Some may argue this is more about maintaining existing control top stop challengers but it also makes the scenes in Tarnait less likely.

Though NSW Lower House preselections are notionally 100% rank-and-file votes, there was a previous N40 rule that could be invoked, which allowed a combination of 50% Administrative Committee and 50% delegates to the State or Federal Electorate Council (excluding the additional affirmative action weighting given to female candidates). The N40 rule (now N41) has not been used in recent times due to its extensive abuse by the Terrigal sub-faction of the NSW Right to impose its candidates in Lower House seats.

What it means is NSW Labor has a massively malapportioned delegate system that does not reflect the geographic distribution of membership to the benefit of the NSW Right who hold a majority at State Conference as a result. It also means there is less incentive for factional fragmentation to horsetrade like in Victoria and branchstacking does not have a strong statewide impact on preselections.

It is important to understand how party structures drive particular incentives if we are serious about party reform to tackle branchstacking in parties and to have true mass membership parties, otherwise changes will be ineffective and only ever be superficial.

Who are state MPs supporting for NSW Labor leader?

During June, NSW Labor will be holding a direct election ballot for the state parliamentary leadership. The contest will be between Jodi McKay and Chris Minns, both from the Centre Unity (Labor Right) faction. It will be the first ballot held for a Labor leader in any jurisdiction since the ballot between Anthony Albanese and Bill Shorten after the 2013 federal election.

The election will be conducted via postal ballot with the rank and file component of the ballot closing on 21st June. The State Parliamentary Labor Party will meet on the 29th to conduct their ballot and a declaration of the result on 30th June.

Under Section P of the NSW Labor rules, 50% of the vote will come from the State Parliamentary Labor Party and 50% will be from rank-and-file members. I do understand there are nomination thresholds for candidates in the State Parliamentary Labor Party rules which are not publicly available.

Estimates of the number of voters range from 15,000 to 20,000. The 74% turnout for the 2013 ballot gives a rough indication though that participation may be less than that, especially due to the lack of excitement about the choices, especially amongst left-wing members of the party.

Given they will constitute half the vote and may override the rank-and-file vote, I have listed the state MPs that have publicly indicated who they will support to date:

Jodi McKay Chris Minns
Lynda Voltz Greg Donnelly
Kate Washington Ron Hoenig
Jenny Aitchison Jihad Dib
Paul Lynch Walt Secord
Adam Searle Steve Kamper
Trish Doyle Tania Mihailuk
Mark Buttigieg Jo Haylen
Julia Finn Rose Jackson
David Harris Anna Watson
Prue Car Shaoquett Moselman
Jodie Harrison Edmond Atalla
Yasmin Catley Guy Zangari
Anthony D’Adam Courtney Houssos
Greg Warren Nick Lalich
Peter Primrose
Stephen Bali
Marjorie O’Neill
Liesl Tesch
Tara Moriarty
Michael Daley
Sophie Cotsis

A range of other endorsements have been made by unions, federal MPs and other organisations which are listed below:

Jodi McKay Chris Minns
MUA (Newcastle) AWU
Justine Elliott MP HSU
AMWU* SDA NSW/ACT
AMIEU* Hellenic Caucus
Mich-Elle Myers, ALP National Vice President Stephen Lawrence, Dubbo Regional Councillor
Mark Greenhill, Blue Mountains Council Mayor Bill Saravinovski, Bayside Council Mayor
CFMMEU Chris Bowen MP
Barrie Unsworth, former NSW Premier Chris Hayes MP
Susan Templeman MP Linda Burney MP
Sue West, former NSW Senator Sharon Grierson, former Labor MP for Newcastle
NSW Senator Doug Cameron John Robertson, former NSW Labor leader
Jenny Dowell, former Mayor of Lismore Doug McClelland, former NSW Senator
Christine Robertson, former NSW MLC
Transport Workers Union

* Did not explicitly endorse McKay but publicly opposed Minns

Some have suggested that this leadership contest is actually a proxy battle for control of Sussex Street within the NSW Centre Unity faction between the current General Secretary Kaila Murnain who is supporting Jodi McKay and those who were more supportive of her predecessor Jamie Clements who are supporting Chris Minns. If that is the case, it reinforces the ambivalent mood that many party members have about this contest.

If there are any corrections or additions that need to be made to these lists, please leave a comment.

UPDATE: Jodi McKay won the ballot with 60.5% of the vote, receiving 63% of the rank-and-file votes and 29 votes from MPs (58%) compared to 21 for Chris Minns. Overall 10,822 rank-and-file members voted, a turnout of around 61.5%.