In Australian politics, the term branch stacking is used to describe the act of recruiting members for a local branch of a political party for the principal purpose of influencing the outcome of internal preselections of candidates for public office. It has become controversial in Australia after several inquiries or contests which received mainstream attention, and most political parties now have clauses in their constitutions which allow "head office" intervention to resolve alleged stacking, with penalties for those who engage in it. Branch stacking itself is legal under Australian law, but some activities like providing false information to the Australian Electoral Commission can be prosecuted as fraud.
The Hawke-Wran review of the Australian Labor Party in 2002 claimed branch stacking, largely driven by factions seeking to expand their influence, had a "cancerous" effect on the party and a "deadening" effect on branch activity, as many of the recruited members have no commitment to the party. Commentators and authors within or formerly within the Liberal Party of Australia have claimed similar activity in their branches has had a similar effect.
Activities commonly described as branch stacking
Activities commonly considered to be branch stacking include:
- Paying another person's party membership fee, with or without their knowledge.
- Recruiting members on the condition that they are then obliged to vote in a particular way.
- Recruiting members for the express purpose of influencing the outcome of a ballot within the party.
- Recruiting members who do not live at the claimed address of enrolment.
- Enrolling people on the electoral roll with false information about their identity or their address of enrolment — this may either take the form of consensual false enrolment, or of forgery.
- Organising or paying concessional rate fees for a person who is ineligible for concessional rates.
- "Cemetery voting", or using the names of dead people to vote in a party preselection.
- Offering inducements to younger or less powerful party members to engage in such behaviour.
Notable instances of branch stacking
- In Queensland in 2001, the Shepherdson Inquiry examined allegations of electoral fraud within the Labor Party in that state. While it concluded that no public elections had been influenced, it found that "the practice of making consensual false enrolments to bolster the chances of specific candidates in preselections was regarded by some Party members as a legitimate campaign tactic." As a result of the Inquiry, several people, including at least three sitting MPs, either resigned or were expelled from the Labor Party.
- Allegations of branch-stacking relating to the federal seat of Division of Wentworth within the Liberal Party's New South Wales division were published in 2006 by John Hyde Page, who both detailed his own role in the process and made allegations about numerous Liberal members and figures. Some of those named took successful legal actions for defamation and the book was subsequently pulled from the shelves.
- Hawke, Bob; Wran, Neville (August 2002). "National Committee of Review Report". Retrieved 15 June 2014.
- Barns, Greg (2004). What's wrong with the Liberal Party. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-54288-X.
- Queensland Criminal Justice Commission (April 2001). "The Shepherdson Inquiry - An Investigation Into Electoral Fraud" (PDF). Retrieved 11 February 2010.
- Millar, Lisa (1 May 2001). "Shepherdson Report handed down". 7.30 Report (ABC). Retrieved 11 February 2001.
- Hyde Page, John (2006). The Education of a Young Liberal. Melbourne University Press. ISBN 0-522-85176-2.
- See e.g. David Clarke v Melbourne University Publishing Ltd t/a Melbourne University Press (2007) NSWDC 209; (2007) 5 DCLR (NSW) 308; (2008) ALMD 1736