The WikiLeaks Party's 'independent' review (PDF download link) into the 2013 Australian federal election preference selections was released on 7 February. It had taken 142 days to produce and its conclusions consist of two short paragraphs (of 282 words) that sidestep responsibility for the preference scandal.
Whilst the review was not a complete whitewash, by failing to hold anyone accountable, it has adhered to the standard model for political internal inquiries. Clearly, the WikiLeaks Party (WLP) was intended to counter and not mirror this sort of behaviour, and yet, that is where it is.
The review correctly suggests that “a number of key WLP members were instrumental” in the failure, with the key events described in terms of a “confusion”, “due to a lack of defined responsibilities.” This ambiguity was unavoidable, to describe the failure is to, in effect, name those responsible and vice versa. Besides the review's opaque conclusions, several other aspects are a cause for concern.
The first stems from the review's terms of reference (TOR), which excluded all material pertinent to preference decision-making from before 16 August 2013. This time-framing has excluded evidence regarding the Western Australia (WA) and New South Wales (NSW) preferences, including an email (7 August) by Julian Assange (the WLP President), which outlined his “preference process and decisions” intervention and NC meeting minutes (8 June) that stated: “Parties that are close to our values will be looked upon favourably.”
The WLP reviewer Stuart Bell (a WLP member), of Bell Campbell Auditing, wrote in the review's 'Assumptions' section that:
Due to limited or no access to WLP official transcripts, minutes of National Council meetings and official emails/correspondence, the author has made assumptions based on the accuracy of information supplied by WLP members.
February 14, 2013
The preference fiasco ended with a sizeable number of senior Party members resigning. The toll included, David Haidon - Victorian (VA) volunteer coordinator, Sean Bedlam - WikiLeaks Party social media team, NC members: Samantha Castro, Kaz Cochrane, Luke Pearson and Dr Daniel Mathews, and the VA Senate candidate Leslie Cannold (Julian Assange's running partner). The review does not contain anything related to these members and former members, this is despite the fact that Castro made a submission that was endorsed by many of the election resignees.
If the resignees are not represented, the review cannot be a realistic attempt to discover how the preference disaster occurred or learn from what happened. It can only be a cover-up.
This conflict of purpose is expressed in the review's lack of depth, which enables it to avoid the content of all submissions. The resolution of events has been pulled back until paragraphs become words and chapters become sentences. The review took this form because description and detail will necessarily touch upon accountability.
The journalist Cathy Vogan has pointed out that there are indications of censorship within the review process, specifically:
The TOR scope was limited by the author’s inability or access to all relevant information and WLP personnel, especially where there has been a severe fall-out over the 2013 preferencing issues in NSW and WA, including resignation of a candidate and several National Council members.
Considering that Samantha Castro's submission was sent to Bell twice, this cannot account for his “limited […] access to all relevant information”. The only explanation is that Bell was limited through instruction. And it is reasonable to assume that these instructions came from the person who hired him, namely the WLP's CEO, John Shipton.
A further indication of the mentality driving the review can be seen in its sole embedded document (Annexure A) - an email dated 12 August. As mentioned previously, the review's TOR states that material from before 16 August cannot be submitted. Tellingly, the 'relevant material' cut-off date, is just one day later, 17 August, whilst NC documents show the Party's preferences had been under discussion for at least 70 days. The 12 August email was selected in contravention of the TOR because it falsely gives an appearance that the final preferences had been endorsed by the NC. However, former NC member and WikiLeaks co-founder Daniel Mathews has stated that this email “was superseded by a specific binding resolution later on. What sort of 'independent' report includes only that?”
Indeed, the TOR submission start date is based on Greg Barns' 16 August preference email, which shows the ongoing disunity within the Party, as well as the NC's actual final positions. It was the disregarding of these positions by Barns and Shipton that caused the Party resignations and the following election collapse. Of course, by design none of this (and much else besides) is mentioned in the WLP's review.
The three emails
As with John Shipton's decision to ignore the NC's preference selections, the WLP's non-review was always going to incur some form of cost. The WLP's sense of security was derived from a lock-down of the review process, and it proved illusory.
The review relied upon the submissions of the surviving NC members (John Shipton, Cassie Findlay, Kellie Tranter and Omar Todd), all of whom were complicit in the poor decision-making and group-think that caused the election collapse. They were joined by the post-election NC replacement Gail Malone and Greg Barns. Despite this submissions safety, something went badly wrong for the pyrrhic victors of the Party's preference conflict. The review contained a bombshell in its recommendations:
1. Circulation of GVT parties and groups to be circulated to National Council members and WLP members as early as possible for open forum.
2. National Council to appoint a Registered Officer within a sub-committee of three National Council members.
3. The three sub-committee members will be responsible for preference negotiations.
4. The RO will be responsible for collating final preferences.
5. The RO will be responsible for the final GVT submission to the AEC.
During the election run-up the WLP split into two factions over the preference selections. One faction (the resignees) supported the 'legislative' power of the NC and wanted selections to conform to the Party's values. The other faction supported the ill-defined 'executive' power of Assange, Shipton and Barns and wanted the Party to select according to a risky gaming strategy. The politics of the former tended towards the left and the latter towards the right. On one side the Party's constitution empowered the NC:
12.1 Subject to this Constitution, any resolution of the Members at a Party Meeting and the Act, the National Council has the control and management of the administration, affairs, business, property and funds of the Party.
And on the other, a 'void for vagueness' style article (open to interpretation) gave the executive a presidential veto power:
12.6 The powers of the Party and the National Council are ancillary to and exercisable only to pursue the objectives of the Party herein.
As the date (17 August) for preference registration approached the executive tried to gain control over the selections. This move is evidenced by Assange's 7 August email and the review's Annexure A 12 August email. However, it was unconstitutional (the executive cannot make policy), and it failed. This turnaround is evidenced in Barns' 16 August email. Daniel Mathews:
The council could not practically decide the precise ordering of all parties, and some discretion was left to the candidates and/or campaign teams to establish the details. Nonetheless clear instructions were formalised by Barns in an email sent at 8:16 pm Friday night.
In a democratic sense, this was the end of the matter. And yet, the NC 's instructions were secretly overturned on the night of 16 August by the veto power - which then turned into policy by fiat.
When the Party awoke on the 17th to the betrayal, the election over.
The review unequivocally supports the power of the NC. Its recommendations confirm that the NC was right to stand up to the executive, and the executive was wrong to usurp it. Furthermore, the integrity of those who sided with the executive has been undermined by the review. As a result, the post-election NC has experienced a mass-resignation.
The three avoids
Within hours of the review's release, NC members Cassie Findlay, Niraj Lal and Kellie Tranter resigned. They have not yet given reasons for leaving the WLP and although the review is clearly a factor (as seen by the timing of the resignations), it is likely that it was the final straw.
Rather than swiftly producing the review and concentrating on reforming the constitution; rather than defining a unique political platform; rather than either making conciliatory gestures to the resignees or finding high quality NC replacements - the post-election WLP nose-dived into the foremost geopolitical crisis on the planet: Syria.
Whilst in some respects the WLP's intentions in participating in the so-called 'Syrian solidarity delegation' were admirable, in practice the affair was hopelessly muddled and mired by a quite staggering partisanship. The scale of these blunders is such, that there is literally nothing else the leadership of the Party could have done post-election to better display its dysfunction.
The fact that two senior NC members, Omar Todd and Kellie Tranter, and the Party's president Julian Assange were not informed about this critically important policy decision speaks for itself.
In a leaked email, Julian Assange suggested three rules for avoiding the inevitable problems created by placing Party volunteers in positions of trust and responsibility: avoid the stupid, the unstable and the opportunists. Those are the rules for the bottom. But what are the rules for the top and could any of them remain unbroken? The answer is that many, if not all of them, must have been broken. This being the case, is it not time for the leadership of the WLP to step aside?
The Party should make room for someone younger. Someone dynamic and imaginative. Someone with a more complete understanding of the art of politics.
It is likely that these changes are being held back by the resignee and executive faction's enmity towards one another. In that, the executive feels that reform would be perceived as a 'victory' by their opponents, something they are unwilling to concede. The lack of reform has translated into a lack of confidence. A truly sorry state of affairs that is indicative of the need for reform.
The post-review Party now inhabits a markedly different political space from its pre-election positioning. This space is extremely narrow and without reform and a change of leadership, the Party is electorally finished.
Of the original NC, only three remain: Julian Assange, John Shipton and Omar Todd. Daniel Mathews, Kellie Tranter, Kaz Cochrane, Samantha Castro, Niraj Lal and Cassie Findlay have all resigned. Of the three replacements, one is completely inappropriate (Jamal Daoud), while the other two (Gail Malone and Matt Watt) are complicit in the Party's demise.
The post-election WLP NC is now a minority position within what used to be itself - from below the NC line of Omar Todd, there must be change.
There needs to be new leadership and a new NC core.