Former Wikileaks Party member: Assange wanted deal with Family First, veto power on preferences

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More fallout from the Wikileaks Party’s preferences fiasco as four National Council members yesterday announced their resignations, following from the shock decision by Assange’s running mate Leslie Cannold to resign. However, one former member and member of the National Council – Dr. Daniel Mathews – has shed more light into the internal divisions over the preference deals in a blog post.

Mathews, who is friends with Assange since university days, said that Assange wanted lead candidates to make the preferences decisions themselves without any restraints, and if Assange didn’t like them, he should be able to veto it. He also said that the National Council should act as a rubber-stamping authority only.

This came from an email sent by Assange accusing the National Council of “micromanagement of preferences” after the National Council asked for more information from Greg Barns, national campaign director, on a preference deal with Family First.

“They argued… that the average punter cares nothing about preference deals”

“At all meetings on preferences, Greg Barns spoke repeatedly of his conversations with Julian, but it seemed to me that much less communication apparently occurred between Julian and the National Council. As such, in my view, a divide started to appear between an insider group, including Julian, John [Shipton, Assange’s father] and Greg, and the rest of the National Council,” Mathews wrote in a blog post announcing his resignation.

“… They thought it was the only way to win, and they were prepared to do deals with those parties. They argued, roughly speaking, that the average punter cares nothing about preference deals, the impact on primary vote will be minimal, and only with the extra preferences will we be able to get over the line.”

Assange’s proposal was rejected by the National Council.

According to Mathews, the party spent all day on August 16 organising their preferences. Western Australia was done relatively quickly, preferencing the Greens “clearly … ahead” of the major parties due to a pre-existing arrangement with Senator Scott Ludham. For New South Wales, after lengthy discussions, the Greens were to be preferenced ahead the Shooters and Fishers and Family First parties.

Victoria, based on Mathews’ recollections, appeared to be the most contentious as the preferences decision with Family First was put to vote. “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,” according to Mathews.

“The vote went 3 yes, 3 abstain, 5 no. John and Julian (via John as proxy) voted yes.”

Positions became “untenable”

The Wikileaks Party announced yesterday morning that they were to conduct an independent review on what happened with their candidate preferences. However, it has later emerged that members within the party were trying to bypass the National Council, and wanted a non-independent review after the election.

“In direct contrast to the public statement The Wikileaks Party put out this morning in which we promised the public that we would have an immediate independent review of the preference outcomes, [a party member] said that the review would be delayed until after the election and that it wouldn’t be done independently,” Leslie Cannold, the now-former number two Wikileaks Party Senate candidate for Victoria, said in her resignation statement.

Adding their voices, former National Council members Sam Castro, Kaz Cochrane, Luke Pearson; in addition to Sean Bedlam, social media captain; David Haidon, Victorian volunteer coordinator; and Mathews wrote in a joint statement that such moves made their positions untenable within the party – especially since they were vocal about getting a review underway.

“… this is not an acceptable mode of operation for any organization”

“As long as we believed there was a chance that democracy, transparency and accountability could prevail in the party we were willing to stay on,” they wrote.

“But where a National Council member begins openly subverting the party’s own processes, and asking others to join in a secret, alternative power centre that subverts the properly constituted one, this is not an acceptable mode of operation for any organization but even more so for an organization explicitly committed to democracy, transparency and accountability.”

Mathews adds in his own personal blog that the “final straw” was when Julian Assange tried to explain the preference fiasco to ABC Triple J’s Hack programme on Tuesday. He labelled his responses as a “flagrant contradiction” to what had happened. Assange told the programme (around the 13 minute mark):

There was a decision that preferences would be done by the states, by the candidates in the states… In WA, there’s no preference the Nationals above Scott Ludham. There was a decision to preference a new entrant into the WA political field – an Australian Aboriginal who happened to be a member of the National party… [and] symbolically display him in the preference list.

Assange also repeated the claim that the Nationals’ candidate, David Wirrpanda, would not get the seat.

Mathews says that this is clearly wrong for Assange to say that preferences were done by the states, that Assange knew that the preferences would be done by the National Council, and that any decisions made by the Council are binding on all members. On the WA decision, Mathew adds, “It was not just the Aboriginal Nationals candidate referred to, David Wirrpanda, who is above Ludlam. Both Nationals candidates are preferenced, as are the candidates of several other parties.”

What about the review and changes?

With four National Council members and the number two Senate candidate resigning, we might see more people leaving the party. We might not even see that review eventuate, and if we do it will probably not be independent since the faction that does not want an independent review is still in the party.

In any case, it goes against its core beliefs of transparency and accountability.

Julian Assange was never likely to get a seat in Victoria – the quota is 14% in the state – since not many minor parties have preferenced him highly; while, the Wikileaks Party would probably get a small fraction of the vote and be eliminated in the early counting process. If members do vote “above the line” then they will inadvertently vote for The Nationals in WA (meaning the Greens lose their seat) and artificially inflate the Shooters and Fishers party in NSW (they’re also likely not going to get a seat).

In order for members to avoid the preferences fiasco, the Wikileaks Party are saying to members and supporters to vote “below the line”. This is the only way to not use the Wikileaks Party preferences since they cannot change their preferences. However, with a record number of candidates, the likelihood of people opting to vote for that method is small. In New South Wales alone, there are 110 Senate candidates which you have to mark your individual preference. Western Australia has 62 candidates to preference. And Victoria, if you disagree with the Wikileaks Party preferences, which are in line with the National Council, you have to preference 97 candidates.

But again, I wouldn’t trust the party to print out a how-to-vote card if the faction that is fighting hard to go against the National Council because of preferences is still in the party. It will be up to individual – and I highly suggest you go to senate.io to make your own how-to-vote card.