While the KordaMentha report was triggered by allegations of branch stacking, it also identified other activities deemed to be “gravely detrimental to the best interests of the party”.
The report found Mr Muthyala had paid for other people’s memberships, but The Age is not suggesting the other people named were involved in this activity.
The investigation was launched after The Age and Sydney Morning Herald revealed allegations in August of extensive branch stacking centred around Mr Bastiaan, who resigned from the party soon after the story broke.
The report found a high number of instances of party membership records being accessed after hours and by unauthorised persons. A key culprit found to have been behind this activity was a staff member for federal MP for Deakin and Assistant Treasurer Michael Sukkar, who was not one of the four people set to be punished.
Branch stacking involves powerbrokers organising large numbers of people to join the party to influence key internal processes including preselections.
The review also found evidence of “warehousing”, where party members are recruited to branches using false addresses to achieve an internal party outcome. About 220 members were warehoused over the past five years, the review found, including about 25 per cent of members in the Deakin electorate, in Melbourne’s eastern suburbs.
The Age previously reported the practice of “warehousing” appeared to be used in the Ringwood branch located in Mr Sukkar’s electorate. The party is considering whether to make it more difficult for new members to vote in internal elections.
The administrative committee will meet again next week to discuss what actions to take following the report, including potential disciplinary action against the four party operatives. The administrative committee does not have the power to expel members and a two-thirds majority of the party’s state assembly is required.
Mr Sukkar and Mr Andrews were cleared by the Commonwealth Finance Department of wrongly using taxpayer-funded resources for branch stacking.
Victoria’s corruption body is assessing allegations Mr Sukkar’s office misused taxpayer funds, but no action has been taken.
Mr Sukkar and Mr Andrews will not face internal disciplinary action.
Key figures in the scandal have refused to speak to the KordaMentha investigators, prompting Liberal Party president Robert Clark to warn party members in late November that suspension or expulsion could be the consequences for refusing to co-operate.
In an email to party members on Thursday night, party president Robert Clark said the membership activity was “at best … a deliberate circumvention of the Party’s constitutional provisions”.“At worst it is a form of “branch stacking” to gain votes through bringing into the Party persons who are unsuitable to be members and/or are not joining with a genuine commitment to the Party,” he said.“On either view, what has occurred shows the need for urgent and substantial constitutional amendments to ensure the Party consistently encourages and welcomes genuine and committed new members while declining applications from persons who are unsuitable or seeking to join for inappropriate reasons.“
The party is set to revamp its constitution to crack down on branch stacking and an independent tribunal may be created to sanction members.
The report was only made available to committee members who were physically present at the Thursday night meeting. The measure was designed to prevent details of the report leaking to the media.
The rule meant Education Minister Dan Tehan, representing Prime Minister Scott Morrison, Victorian shadow minister Kim Wells, representing Opposition Leader Michael O’Brien, and former party president Michael Kroger were all unable to view the report as they were attending remotely via Zoom. A post-meeting briefing occurred for those who attended virtually.
Paul is a Victorian political reporter for The Age.