Branch stacking is an old sport

Christians are in demand

One of my first house mates was an accomplished branch stacker in the Liberal Party. Branch stacking is the dubious art of taking over a local branch of a political party by recruiting people who will vote the way you want them to. An Age, Sydney Morning Herald and 60 Minutes report has uncovered a stash of secret recording which prove definitively that it has been going on, in the Victorian Liberals

By his count, my mate Gordon (he’s no longer around to trouble us sadly so that is his real name) controlled about ten per cent of the State Council in the state we lived  in.

His trick was to stack Liberal branches in Labor seats – which was probably quite easy to do.
Similar shenanigans have now emerged in the Liberal Party’s Victorian branch, but in strongly conservative ares. The stacker, one Michael Bastian, has now been ejected, maybe self-ejected, from the party. Perhaps he was too open about what he was doing for his own good. He’s put his behaviour down to being young.

There are many Christians involved in the Liberal Party – possibly more now than in earlier years as the collapse of several Christian micro-parties such as Rise Up Australia, the Australian Christians and Family First have left party activists seeking a new home.

Christians are not guaranteed to be let into the Liberal Party.

For some that is literally a new home. New groups such as the federal party have been formed and have become the home for some. One Nation is actively seeking the votes of Christians, with the NSW leader Mark Latham in particular raising issues that will attract the politically conservative wing of our faith. His Education Legislation Amendment (Parental Rights) Bill which seeks to allow parents to withdraw their children from lessons contradicting the parent’s “political, social or personal” values is a current example.

But an interesting aspect of the recruitment tactics by some energetic Bastian-style party loyalist is that Christians are not guaranteed to be let into the Liberal Party.
Eternity spoke some time ago to a former candidate in one of the erstwhile micro parties who had her membership application refused.

It seems there is hand-to-hand conflict in the suburbs of Melbourne, where like attracts like into the Liberal party branches. It would be a mistake to assume branch stacking or active recruitment tactics are used by only one faction – or within one party. The ALP got there first.

The important think to note is how few people there are in the political parties, an ABC News reporter said on ABC New Breakfast this week. The average age of the Liberal Party membership was reported as 72, and 65 for the ALP. This makes the party structure vulnerable to takeover, and while on paper the Liberal Party has a robust constitution, any party with a too small membership is vulnerable.
Party membership it seems is a bit like Rugby Union. It is something a lot of people were heavily involved in – once. Other codes in football, and forms of activism in politics have come to take its place.
National Church Life Survey (the church census)  stats show that the Coalition attracts the bulk of Christian votes in this country.

“Catholic attenders were the largest group to vote Labor at 34 per cent, but even Catholics were more likely to vote Liberal/Nationals with 38 per cent making that choice. Mainstream Protestants (Anglican, Uniting Church, Presbyterian, Lutheran) were most likely to generally vote Liberal/National (50 per cent), and Pentecostals were the most likely to generally vote Family First/Australian Christians/CDP (18 per cent).”

This makes who makes up the membership of the Coalition parties of special interest to many Christians – and Branch stacking is a turn-off.

But in general while many prominent Christians are activists or MPs in the Coalition, most Christians who generally support them find other things to do with their time. The low numbers of Australians, especially younger Australians joining political parties – believed to be in the low five figure range for the Liberals and Labor – should be a concern for all of us, regardless of our personal voting habit.

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