On the 21st August Daniel Mathews, a member of the National Council of the Wikileaks Party posted a statement explaining why he had resigned from the Council. The cause of Mathews' resignation was the Wikileaks Party's (WLP) preferences (this system allows political parties to select where their votes go after they are 'knocked out' of the race - it is a complex system that lends itself to deal-making between parties) in two states, New South Wales (NSW) and Western Australia (WA). All told, two senior party members: David Haidon (Victorian volunteer coordinator) and Sean Bedlam (WikiLeaks Party social media team), four National Council members: Sam Castro Kaz Cochrane, Luke Pearson and Dr Daniel Mathews and the Victoria (VA) Senate candidate: Leslie Cannold (running partner to Julian Assange) resigned.
Mathews' statement points to the development of two factions within the WLP. One faction appears to have formed around Greg Barns (former Campaign Manager) and John Shipton (CEO, WikiLeaks Party), while the other is composed of those who resigned. The WLP National Council (NC) was made up of eleven members, which means at least another two members supported the resignees during the critical NC voting on preferences. The NC's power resides within the WLP's constitution, which states
12. National Council Role, Power and Entitlements
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.
However, there is an article that appears to suggest this power can be curtailed:
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.
The natural questions to ask are; who decides if the actions of the NC are not conforming to “the objectives” of the Party and how is such a thing possible when the NC is the sole governing body of the party? Presumably:
12.8 The President will (unless the President declines to act) be the Chair of all meetings of which he or she is in attendance (“Chairman” means the President, Julian Assange is the Chairman of the WikiLeaks Party).
At some point the two centres of power seen above would come into conflict. One group inevitably finding that their understanding of the party's “objectives” differed from the other's.
Factions naturally evolve around different interpretations of a party's political philosophy (which is seldom clearly defined) and the policies they generate. The preferencing issue created just such a schism, the only question was which faction would prevail.
In the fledgeling party Julian Assange was not yet elected as President and the members of the Council likewise. Not enough time had passed for the party to become fully democratic or for the 'separation of powers' fault-line within the party’s constitution (the relationship between the President and the governing body), to be settled. Ideally the Party should have been formed far in advance of the election, where there would be the space to find its centre of gravity and reform.
Unfortunately this was not to be. Instead the party crash-diving into the Australian Senate elections was unresolved, with further instability being created by the absence of Julian Assange (due to WikiLeaks' efforts to secure the safety of the NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden), at a time when a consensus or toleration of a majority solution to preferencing was needed.
On the Council, Cassie Findlay had become Chairperson after John Shipton moved aside to control the absent President's vote as well as his own (articles 9.1 and 11.1 of the WLP constitution allowed members of the Council who felt that John Shipton held excessive power, to vote on the issue and remove him from the Chair). Three further votes were needed by the 'leadership' group to maintain control of the Council, however, only one was reliable, Kellie Tranter's (NSW Senate candidate). The ability of a diverted President or his nominated proxy (John Shipton) to confidently hold a majority on the Council had slipped away by the time preferencing became an urgent issue. Julian Assange:
On 6th August, at a National Council meeting, Greg Barns proposed a deal with a group of small parties, organised by Glenn Druery (ed. a preference 'guru'). This group, including several far right parties, proposed to deliver 7%-9% of the vote to us if we preferenced them all highly. The National Council rejected it.
Greg Barns spoke repeatedly of his conversations with Julian, (ed. however there was) much less communication apparently between Julian and the NC. In my view, a divide started to appear between an insider group, including Julian, John and Greg, and the rest of the National Council.
While Greg Barns and Glenn Druery struggled “to deliver 7%-9% of the vote” by making a deal with the 'Minor Party Alliance' (a group that included some extreme right-wing micro-parties), the Council sought the expert advice of Charles Richardson (a noted political journalist), who stated that preferencing needed to reflect the unique political position of the WLP and the values it embodied.
Both of these positions have positive and negative aspects.
The 'gaming position' was short-termist and contained elements of risk; by playing the preference system to the hilt, there was a slender possibility of unexpected wins in NSW and WA. However, would the preferencing of far right parties such as the Australia First Party (a neo-Nazi party) and the Shooters and Fishers Party (individuals who enjoy killing animals) have consequences, or would it go unnoticed?
The 'principled position' was a safe long-term strategy; by only preferencing parties that reflected WLP's values, a core of support could be established for the future. With the exception of VA, Senate seats were completely unobtainable in this election, therefore it was logical use the preferences in NSW and WA to make a statement. With this strategy there was no risk of damaging the party's base of support – in the event that this base cared (very deeply) about being associated Swastika thugs and elephant murderers.
One of these positions is clearly wrong and one is clearly right.
The Council voted on the preference options and rejected the 'gaming position'. It was at this point that the faction (based around Greg Barns and John Shipton) which had proposed and supported 'gaming' turned to the constitution's 12.6 article and ignored the party's governing body. The likely rationale for this decision is that the Council had only outvoted the leadership's position due to circumstance and that though “well intentioned” the Council simply did not understand the dynamics at play. In a stunning miscalculation the 'gaming faction' then sparked a chain-of-events that would destroy the WLP's electoral chances.
The actions of the 'gaming faction' were politically risky for another reason. The proposed 'Minor Party Alliance':
Senator Online | Australian Voice Party | Australian Fishing and Lifestyle Party | Family First | Stable Population Party | Party for Freedom | Australia First Party | Sex Party | WikiLeaks | Animal Justice Party | Stop CSG Party | Help End Marijuana Prohibition [HEMP] Party | Voluntary Euthanasia Party | Single Parents Party | Building Australia Party | Natural Medicine Party | Australian Independents Party | Climate Sceptics Party | Shooters and Fishers Party | One Nation | Australian Democrats (Darren Churchill) | Bullet Train for Australia Party | Bank Reform Party
Both the NSW's Shooters and Fishers Party and the VA's Family First candidates were Druery's clients.
Daniel Mathews on WLP preferencing decision regarding Family First (FF) in Victoria (the Senate seat that Julian Assange was hoping to take):
Victoria was the most difficult. There was a vote on a resolution, which was complicated and contingent upon another deal, but roughly the question was whether or not to do a deal with Family First and put them in the top 10 preferenced parties, if we didn’t get a better offer. The vote went 3 yes, 3 abstain, 5 no. John Shipton and Julian Assange (via John as proxy) voted yes.
Later that day Greg Barns formalised the Council preferences in relation to the Green Party:
I would have preferred to have had Shooters and FF in the mix but the final deals are:
Victoria – Greens put WLP at number 2 and WLP has Greens first of majors and drops Shooters and FF/Christian groups below majors.
NSW – Greens preference WLP at 3, with Pirates at 2, and WLP puts Greens above FF, Shooters and Christian Right.
WA – Greens preference WLP at 2 and WLP puts Greens first of major parties and above Christian right and Shooters.
The Shooters and some parties on the right will probably put WLP below the majors as a result of these deals.
In VA there was no direct fall-out from the preferences, but the events in NSW and WA would be fatal to Julian Assange's bid for a Senate seat in this state.
In NSW problems surfaced. Glenn Druery's grand 'Minor Party Alliance' had collapsed in the final preference negotiations and an attempt was made to patchwork deals with his remaining 'clients'. These deals followed the 'Australian Independents' path. The preferences 'favours' were not returned. The 'gaming faction' of the WLP on the Sunday morning after the Saturday preference registrations found itself in an astonishing position. Not only had they risked everything on these preferences, they had done so for nothing. The political naivety and stupidity behind this fiasco is almost beyond comprehension.
The 'gaming faction' still reasoned that it was possible that this 'mishap' would go unnoticed. WikiLeaks is the most scrutinised and attacked journalistic organisation in history. A natural evolution into politics would without question inherit the journalistic branch’s nemeses. Further, its supporting base is made up of the most politically aware and engaged elements of society, they notice things, that is why they support WikiLeaks and the WLP. Daniel Mathews:
Supporters melted away. Our base evaporated. The view within the party that preferencing the far Right would not lead to any mass outrage, but that average punters couldn’t care less about preferences, was comprehensively demolished by the course of events.
This very outcome (a preference PR disaster) was highlighted by Julian Assange in his August 12th memo, however, Assange (perhaps misled by his campaign team) placed the danger where it did not exist, the issue was not one of a candidate being a “stalking horse for another party” (presumably the Greens) but of trojan horses preferencing the only two parties in Australia that could completely derail the WLP campaign:
I am receiving unhappy sounds from the NC micromanaging preferences. I
agree with that. I am unhappy about it too.
3) That I assess the proposed final negotiations secured by the Candidates and their teams to ensure that none of our Candidates or their negotiators has at the last moment become a stalking horse for another party or would be a PR disaster.
In the same memo the confusion between role of the Council and party's President is also seen:
4) That the NC then considers and ratifies the final negotiations based on 1-3.
Sam Castro's August 13th response to the Council being reduced to a 'rubber-stamp' for the mistakes they were fighting to prevent:
This plan sounds undemocratic and disrespectful to the national council of which I thought Julian was an equal member not the a person who could override choices by issuing statements from afar while not attending any meetings (bar one that I am aware of).
The council is trying to ensure the values of the party are not trodden on in pursuit of deals that have NOT been shown in any real way to clearly benefit us and instead completely compromise our values and risk alienating our base.
There was a third NSW factor that took shape when the Council learnt of the fiasco and reassembled to debate it. The 'gaming faction' reluctantly conceded the need for an immediate review, they then waited for the 'principled faction' to dispersed and sought to divide them, in order to avert the exposure of their follies. Promises were made to select Council and WLP members. The Council was to be 'bypassed', the review was to be controlled by John Shipton and postponed. The election campaign would go ahead as though nothing had happened. The 'principled faction' acted in a manner that even a child could have predicted, they took a principled stance.
The WLP Campaign Manager (Greg Barns) and the CEO (John Shipton) lost the election in these moments. By not taking responsibility and resigning, by attempting to cover up the mistakes in NSW, they effectively ended the WLP campaign. If the 'principled faction' resignations were predictable, so were the (often unprofessional) resignation statements, tweets, blogs and videos, and their impact.
Within hours of the resignations the WLP issued a statement:
A clerical error was made in our GVT (preference list) for NSW. Fortunately this error is unlikely to have any electoral impact. However we have announced that there will be an independent review into this error so that a more rigorous process can be implemented in the future.
The WLP then used the Druery betrayal, to buttress their position, stating:
If there's any doubt about the human error in our NSW preference list, see Shooters & Fishers preferences - (cont) tl.gd/n_1rlvj0q
These statements were met with the derision they deserved. The 17 August 'error' was after all, subject to some remarkable precognition by Max Phillips (10 August):
It was not an administrative error, it was a poor judgement call. I’m not [going to come out] here and bullshit the audience.
After the Council walkout, the WLP sought to spin the desertion in terms of "unimportant" fifth columnists, who had "rage quit" having failed in their attempt to "usurp the party". Outside the group-think of the WLP this rhetoric was incredibly damaging. Pointing to the effect of a failed policy, whilst denying that its cause exists is surely the oldest, cheapest and most visible trick in the political book. It fools no one.
At the same time a second war-of-words erupted over the WA Wirrapanda / Ludlam selection. Rather than focusing on their ideological similarities and mutual opponents - working to take votes from them - the WLP and Greens turned on each other, making themselves look amateurish and in the WLP's case vindictive.
Whenever the WLP was asked about the NSW preferences (a constant), they ignored the question and instead attacked the Greens (drawing attention to the WA debacle), the Greens then responded in kind. It was a distraction with a cost.
At the time of writing, one of WikiLeaks' greatest advocates, Senator Scott Ludlam has lost his WA seat by 1034 votes.
In this outcome, WA transitioned from a footnote to the litmus test of the WLP's failure.
The WLP is both a party of the left and the right in that we represent the struggle for both justice and freedom.
Within the WLP the 'gaming faction' is of the right and the 'principled faction' is of the left.
This is why Julian Assange understood preference-gate in terms of Council members acting as a “stalking horse” for the Greens. Because that is what he was told by the right-wing of his own party. A right-wing viewed by the 'principled faction' as 'trojan horses'. By the time Assange was available to talk to his left-wing, the right's actions were a fait accompli and the left, had left.
If the WLP's “libertarian, beyond left / right" stance was dysfunctional within itself, if it could not overcome a political culture formed at the dawn of politics in ancient Greece, how could anyone expect the electorate to do better?
While this mixed approach, looking at positions of principle, divorcing them from their political housing and history, might be suitable for a non-political WikiLeaks, how could anyone expect this arrangement to successfully translate into the medium of politics? And when the party and campaign was to be created 'on the run', was this sensible?
The WLP's platform is uniformly of the new-left, with a few elements mirroring the Libertarian right. The WLP support base is almost entirely of the new-left, with a small contingent from the Lib' right. This being the case, what direction should the campaign have taken? The next question is, why didn't the party frame itself according to its own policies and its base? A political spectrum bell curve graph and a pencil, three lines: policy, support, campaign. A practical, necessary simplicity that proved too complex for a campaign team attempting to reinvent the wheel with a pile of spaghetti.
The issues created by the 'beyond left / right libertarian' stance can be seen in various campaign choices, one of the most notable was flirting with the U.S. GOP Libertarian's foreign policy platform. This was an extremely risky move because of GOP Lib's domestic policies, are rightly seen by the WLP's base as morally obscene. Was it really feasible to separate the GOP Lib's foreign and domestic agendas within the heated landscape of an Australian election? No. This message needed to be very clearly articulated long in advance of an election to give it any chance of success and dropped if it failed. But why pursue it under such risky circumstances, especially with a support base of the left?
An indication of how the left / right divide within the WLP was projected outwards can be seen in its Climate Change policy, which is one of the party's six policy platforms (the others being: Transparency, Asylum Seekers, Media, Shield Laws and Surveillance). The WLP's climate policy was something to be proud of, it cited the science of the forthcoming IPCC report and spoke the truth about the need to leave “a significant proportion of Australia’s coal reserves unburned.” And yet it was not mentioned once in the campaign because it was framed by the right as a policy of the left. Again, why do this with a support base of the left?
In Greg Barns' intellectually challenged swansong to the WLP, he comes perilously close to espousing the noxious ideals of Ayn Rand by writing at length about GOP Lib's Ron and Rand Paul and then mentioning Julian Assange's utopian views of a free market as though there was something to connect them. There is absolutely nothing utopian about Ron and Rand Paul economic policies, unless you happen to be a corporation. And none of those three entities would endorse Julian Assange's “A perfect market requires perfect information” even if it meant saving 39.1 million Americans from poverty and providing 46 million Americans with health care.
To Barns, WikiLeaks and the WLP supporters who notice such things are “hard left or green left”, and they just don't get his “nuanced” election campaign. When someone preferences the right, constantly, in every aspect of the campaign they are waging, even when it is politically insane to do so, when they respond to criticism in McCarthyist terms and with threats of legal action - they are of the right.
The hucksterism of Greg Barns' mangled agenda for the WLP is breathtaking. He can't even coherently write his own WLP political obituary. The party is now in the opposite condition of its beginning. It has been decapitated.
Julian Assange's final statement of the campaign is in fact a description of his campaign manager, “I am not a politician.”
Julian Assange has stated that he did not know what the WA preferences were until after they had been registered, it is also likely that he was unaware of the NSW preferences. He was aware of the VA preferences, because the Council had sent the results of their democratic preference decisions to him.
It is apparent that, after reading the resignation statements, Julian Assange regretted his absence from the leadership role and was not happy with the performance of those who had acted on his behalf:
I made a decision two months ago to spend a lot of my time on dealing with the Edward Snowden asylum situation and trying to save the life of a young man (Bradley Manning). Now, the result is over-delegation, so I admit and I accept full responsibility for over-delegating functions to the Australian party while I tried to take care of those situations.
There are only days in it and we're dead in the water if there is a single mistake. Preference negotiations are the single most important factor now in winning the campaign and are extremely dynamic.
The disagreement that divided the Council was not only about the tactics of negotiating deals, but whether they should be attempting to make deals in the first place. Daniel Mathews:
was the creation of Glenn Druery, a self-appointed 'political consultant'. An 'Australian Independents' candidate Dr Patricia Petersen has stated that Druery betrayed her:
The arrangement was, the Shooters and Fishers would directly preference the Australian Independents in Queensland in exchange for Australian Independents directly preferencing Shooters and Fishers in NSW and WA. As it turns out we stuck to our end of the agreement and honoured it, but unfortunately Glen Druery and 'Shooters and Fishers' didn't honour their part of the arrangement.
Despite wishing to overturn the Council's preference decisions, the 'gaming faction' had a problem in Victoria, Council members Sam Castro and Kaz Cochrane (who had voted against preferencing “FF/Christian groups”) submitted the preference VA registration papers. Victoria is Australia's most progressive state and a WLP association with the right-wing, anti-gay rights and climate change sceptic FF would have been disastrous.
In NSW where members of the 'gaming faction' (Cassandra Findlay and Gail Malone) submitted the papers, they ignored the Council and preferenced the Shooters and Fishers and the Australia First Party above the Greens and major parties.
In WA a different issue arose. Senate candidate Gerry Georgatos submitted the papers and preferenced the right-wing National Party candidate David Wirrapanda above the Greens. Georgatos conformed to the Council's “WLP puts Greens first of major parties”. However, the Green Party's WA candidate Scott Ludlam considered the National Party to be a major threat to his re-election. Georgatos should have asked Ludlam, but he did not. His rationale for preferencing the NP was that Wirrapanda was an aboriginal politician and deserved solidarity. Those are fine sentiments, but for the fact that both WLP and Green members perceived this selection to be a betrayal.
Beyond left and right
The root cause of all of the problems detailed above was the party's political positioning:
As you mean to go on
By the time an exhausted Julian Assange joined the campaign, having secured the safety of the most important whistleblower in history – all that remained was to either end the campaign or to attempt to limit the damage to WikiLeaks from within it.
Day after day Julian Assange sat in front of a blue screen in the Ecuadorian Embassy and did what he could. The positions created by the preferences, by the walkout, by the framing of the party, by the counter-productive spin emanating from the WLP acted as a straight-jacket.
Instead of firing diverse salvoes from the party's policy platform at the corrupt parties of power, a repetitive, lustreless message of oversight was broadcast. The confidence and momentum was gone.
If WikiLeaks' most ardent supporters would not vote for the WLP that had emerged, it would be a miracle if anyone else would. But people did vote for them. The results of the election displayed a fraction of what could have been achieved, and yet, by proving the potential of the party, the results suggest a future. There is now no question that Julian Assange could have secured the needed 4% of the vote to win a VA Senate seat.
In the aftermath of the campaign, the WLP has continued as the ship of fools who thought it better to preference the most toxic elements of the political spectrum, to lose their entire left-wing and support base in the process, instead of behaving with the dignity and honour which would have secured the VA seat. It is a ship that aims at icebergs. And seemingly nothing can stop it.
Matt Watt, the WLP Secretary, continues to spin the events of the campaign. The minutes of the critical Council preference meetings are missing from the party's website. The review's terms of reference are inadequate and it has been alleged that it is being conducted by a company managed by a WLP member.
If the review is a whitewash the party will fail. If it “walks the talk” then the future remains open.
September 27, 2013
With the 'principled faction' gone, it fell to the WA Senate candidate Gerry Georgatos to speak with integrity:
@wikileaks Party people just told they are preferencing rightwing micros like Shooters & Hanson (Australia First Party) before the Greens in NSW?!! @SenatorLudlam