Victorian Libs in funding crisis
Owen Guest has a lot of questions to answer after startling revelations reveal that hundreds of thousands of dollars of Victorian Liberal Party funds are missing. To date the Administrative Committee has not got a handle on the Party’s finances with its recent meetings dedicated to suspending members of the Party.
During the past two election campaigns, the Party has overspent and underperformed by most metrics. Shortfalls should have been covered by the sale of the 104 Exhibition Street building and fundraising efforts. But financial mismanagement in the past 18 months has seen funds dwindle to all time lows with an extraordinary litany of missteps under Party treasurer Owen Guest and the Finance Committee under Ian Anderson.
The funding shortfall avalanche began specifically in the Western Metro and Northern Metro seats in the State Election and lack of fundraising efforts for Federal electorates in those areas to the point where the lack of fundraising is now being viewed as sabotage against the Federal members by some senior Party officials.
The incompetence and laziness of Bernie Finn in the Western Metro area meant that insufficient fundraising took place in those seats. In some seats in the Western suburbs, particularly apparent in the 2019 election, voters showed signs of turning away from the Labor Party. Yet nothing has been done by Bernie Finn to harness fundraising efforts in his area, where a range of small donations could have a sizable impact.
Senior Party officials are blaming Ian Anderson for making unauthorised transactions from the centralised Fighting Fund which contains the accounts and holdings of many FECs, all SECs and most Branches. This means that like in the days of Damien Mantach, Party members’ fundraising efforts have been snatched from electorates to plug holes in Party headquarters and used to fund other spurious projects.
At the same time, Michael O’Brien has sought to quarantine his own future campaign funds by having MPs manage their own pool of money under the bland title of the Communications Fund in order to stave off any issues from CHQ. The Party’s parliamentary wing is at a stalemate with the administrative wing, even though they are in the same faction. The relationship between the Victorian leadership and the Federal secretariat is considerably worse.
The Federal director has dressed down the Victorian leadership on several occasions, citing Victoria’s financial and campaign unpreparedness as the most major risk in Scott Morrison’s upcoming election campaign.
During COVID, the Administrative Committee authorised secretariat staff claiming JobKeeper until it ended. From the beginning of March, the State leadership was forced for financial reasons to fire three staff members from CHQ. Cutting overheads in the lead up to an election is highly unusual. Most notably, long time Party favourite and financial manager Mile Kotoski was given the flick for not fitting in with the new regime’s money management policies.
Ian Anderson also stepped beyond his remit requiring all supporter clubs such as the Kooyong 200 Club to submit their funds into CHQ even though Federal fundraising bodies like the Kooyong 200 Club are exempt from the new State-based fundraising rules. This push is a repetition of Damien Mantach’s similar actions in order to bring more funds into his direct control. No one is saying that Mr Anderson is using the money for personal reasons, but there are strong indications that there is a widespread collapse of income into the Party and that Mr Anderson has dipped heavily into Branch funds to pay bills. This is completely unsustainable and highly improper.
For a long time the Ian Quick-led faction blamed Michael Kroger for scaring off donors and blackened his name for having a fight with the Cormack Foundation. However, Robert Clark has been president for two years and yet the financial situation had already turned disastrous before COVID was ever released in China.
Ultimately, Robert Clark as President must take the blame for the financial mismanagement, disappearing funds and lack of vision which now plagues the Party in Victoria.
Owen Guest, who has used his position as a fulfillment of his social aspirations, has completely destroyed the Party’s financial position, with the Party now existing in real deficit, regardless of bank debts and creative terminology. Mr Guest needs to explain why Branches’, SECs’ and FECs’ funds are depleted, and how these hard won funds are going to be immediately replaced. Preferably not by debts or other deck-chair rotations.
The Administrative Committee uses its meeting times to discuss how to penalise members, the punishing of factional opposition and pushes for the expulsions of hardworking members while it ignores the gaping holes in the finances and does not engage in meaningful fundraising activities.
The campaign overspends in the Western Metro seats mean that effectively the funds of Hawthorn, Kew, Higgins and Kooyong members have been used to cover their debts. Why should the healthy funds of some electorates be used to cover the shortfalls in others? We are not the Communist Party.
Strangely, the monthly financial reports sent to various SECs have displayed amounts in negative terms, meaning that the Party now owes its SECs their funds. Where is the Party going to get these funds? Who will take responsibility for this? How will the 2022 State Election be funded on the back of an important Federal Election campaign?
The Administrative Committee want to increase membership fees. Why should members be slugged for this Committee’s failures?
Party members are rightly angry that Ian Quick, Robert Clark and Owen Guest have jeopardised the Party’s finances.