Today I am resigning my position on the National Council of the Wikileaks Party.
There are several reasons for this resignation, detailed below, but they have been simmering for some time. The Wikileaks Party has arguably suffered serious problems from the outset, being pulled in radically different directions from its base and membership, on the one hand, and the figurehead and associates on the other. These contradictions must eventually resolve themselves, and my resignation today is part of that resolution.
The immediate cause of my resignation, however, is the recent fiasco over senate preferences. The preferences submitted to the Electoral Commission caused a catastrophic loss to the party, including a great deal of distress for members and volunteers who I greatly respect. I have given the party time to put out a statement on the matter, and an independent review has already been announced. However it was immediately undermined. In a desperate move, several members of the council attempted to convene an emergency meeting — to no avail. The public, and supporters, deserve to know what has happened. As such, I have written this account myself, alone.
Preferences had been a simmering issue for some time. Views differed within the party, but in order to understand what follows, it is important to note the structure of the party.
Under the party constitution, the National Council of the party is its governing body, ultimately responsible for its actions and overall direction. Its decisions are binding on the party. It has 11 members, including myself — a founding member of Wikileaks — as well as the founder of Wikileaks, Julian Assange, and his father John Shipton.
At one end of the spectrum of views within the party, I was of the opinion that we should not do any preference deals at all. We should simply preference the parties in order of our values. We have respect and goodwill across the spectrum. We are a new party, without a record of established electoral enemies, without grudges against us, beginners’ goodwill. We did not project a particularly ideological image and so would not immediately alienate Left or Right. We could plausibly expect relatively high preferences across the spectrum — especially from the Greens, left and libertarian minor parties, and perhaps even other parties too. If we played our cards right we could perhaps pull off an historic result like the Movimento Cinque Stelle in Italy.
And though I saw this strategy as the best one to present a principled position and attract the highest possible primary vote, as well as the best possible preferences from others, I considered also that that even if I were wrong, and we had a higher chance of getting elected by doing preference deals, that we should also consider the long-term prospects of the movement which has sprung up around Wikileaks, and the broad social questions to which the party is committed. The party is committed to many social goals, including transparency, accountability, justice, and self-determination, as well as promoting candidates for electoral office. Moreover, pursuing deals with those who oppose our values would compromise the party and alienate those who have joined a movement that they saw as unique for its integrity and courage — our supporters being highly intelligent, activist and committed.
I could countenance some slight modifications to this pure position. For instance, there is an argument to move otherwise mediocre minor parties higher in order to give new voices a better chance and undermine the two-party monopoly. But the outline of my position was clear and I made it well known to the council. No doubt many saw it as profoundly naive and idealistic. But at least I thought it was useful to have such a voice on the council of an electoral party.
(I should also add that my own philosophy is skeptical of electoral politics per se; but that depending on circumstances it can be effective to seek change inside or outside the system. I thought the Wikileaks party presented an historic, strategic opportunity for an intervention into electoral politics.)
At the other end of the party the view on preferences was essentially a view of playing the game. Hardly an unusual difference of opinion. Entering this arena, we were playing to win, and in order to win we need to make the appropriate deals. We probably don’t have the primary vote to do it alone, and so we need to make deals. Julian and Greg Barns (who is campaign director but not on the National Council) essentially held this view — though I do not pretend to present their views fully; they are perfectly able to present their own opinions themselves. Greg, as part of his role, talked to many parties and proposed to the council several deals, including with fundamentalist and far-right parties.
In between were various shades of idealism and pragmatism, of preferences as a moral statement through to preferences as a matter of technical expertise.
National Council meetings have been held at least weekly for several months. Until last Friday, Julian had attended precisely one meeting. He is extremely busy, of course, and has many important things to do. Helping Ed Snowden is surely more important than attending a council meeting. But still, attending 1 out of the first 13 National Council meetings of the party (all of which he could call in to) is a fairly low participation rate in one’s own party, for a man confined to an embassy equipped with a telephone.
On 6 August, at a National Council meeting, Greg Barns proposed a deal with a group of small parties, organised by Glenn Druery. It is of course his job to talk to other parties and I have no doubt he has worked hard and honestly to do his job throughout. 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.
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 and Greg, and the rest of the National Council.
Julian, John, Greg and others, with various degrees of enthusiasm and qualification, were in favour of concluding preference deals with parties that might not otherwise preference us, such as the Christian right and the Shooters & Fishers. 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.
Several on the National Council, including myself, were concerned to maintain the integrity of the party, concerned for the effect on our membership, volunteers and activists of damaging deals, not to mention the compromises we were making ourselves.
At a National Council meeting on 12 August, there was spirited argument between Greg Barns and several members of the National Council regarding a deal with Family First. As part of its decision at that meeting, the National Council requested Greg to provide certain information.
Although Julian had not attended the meeting, after receiving the council’s resolution by email he quickly wrote a long email entitled “NC micromanagement of preferences”, in which he expressed his displeasure with the council in making such requests, and proposed an alternative structure for preference decisions. Negotiations would be done by lead candidates, with no restraints on them, and Julian having a right of veto. He proposed giving the National Council a role in rubber-stamping the results of this process.
Thus, one member of the national council was proposing to grant themselves a right of veto and to reduce it to a rubber stamp. Given the eagerness of some to pursue deals even with the far right, I and several others on the National Council were keen to retain the National Council’s role in these important decisions.
I told the Council that the party could have been set up autocratically, but it was not set up that way. It was set up with a reasonably democratic structure, with a governing council with membership and representation from various sectors supportive of, and related to, Wikileaks. If it could be overridden by the lead candidate when he disagreed, it would be a sham. This received the support of several others on the council, and it thus appeared that the Council would not be reduced to a sham.
On Friday 16 August, the AEC officially announced candidates and parties rapidly negotiated their final deals. At this point the Wikileaks Party had potential deals on the table with Family First, Shooters & Fishers, the Greens, and others. As one might imagine, the National Council, including some candidates, were strongly interested in the outcome of those decisions.
A marathon series of meetings was held through the day, beginning in the morning and running all the way through to the evening. The National Council essentially spent the whole day on the phone. The situation was fluid, with several deals on the table, decisions contingent on others, three states to decide on, and full information not always available.
Nonetheless, most of the council managed to stay on the calls throughout the day. Julian was present at the first meeting but not subsequent ones; John became his proxy. Discussion was occasionally difficult and testy, but votes were held on all questions where there was a difference of opinion. The democratic procedures of the party were followed.
At length, it was decided for NSW to put the Greens above the Shooters & Fishers and the Christian Right — with whom deals had been considered and rejected.
WA was the easy case, because we had a pre-existing arrangement with the Greens senator, Scott Ludlam. They would clearly be ahead of the major parties, and Family First and the Christian Right. This was presented as uncontroversial and little argument was made.
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 and Julian (via John as proxy) voted yes.
As further deals with right-wing parties fell through, what emerged as the National Council’s decision was one that I found quite a relief, a result that had seemed barely achievable the day before. In each state, Greens were to be above Labor/Liberal/Nationals, and the far-right were to go low. Small left and libertarian parties were somewhere in between. 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 Greg in an email sent at 8:16 pm Friday night, which said the following.
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.
Nothing further was heard until Sunday, when I woke up to find that the WLP ticket in NSW had the Shooters & Fishers — and the Nazi Australia First party! — above the Greens. In WA, the Nationals were above the Greens.
I was dumbstruck.
Over the next few hours, social media exploded with outrage — in my view, much of it justified. 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.
Members resigned en masse. Volunteers and Volunteer coordinators were heartbroken and could not bring themselves to work for the cause to which they had previously devoted themselves selflessly.
A statement was put out about an “administrative error” in NSW. I do not know precisely what happened, but I can say what I know — taking precautions, as one must, to protect the presumed innocence of individuals.
In NSW, I cannot imagine that the preferencing of the Nazis was anything other than a mistake — as far as I know nobody ever contemplated putting them anywhere but the bottom. As for the Shooters & Fishers, there was a deal on the table but it was rejected; indeed the Shooters & Fishers preferenced Wikileaks very low. The initial view was that the party had submitted a mistake; and indeed on it face it looks like it could not have been anything else. Possibly from a prior draft preference list, right-wing parties were mistakenly not moved down. But subsequent evidence has come to light that it may not have been entirely a mistake. What combination of factors, however, I cannot say — and an independent review was called for precisely to establish what did happen.
In WA, in my mind there was no doubt that if there had been any suggestion of Labor, Liberal or National parties being placed above Greens, the council would have exploded in uproar. Certainly I would have fought tooth and nail to stop it. The State was presented and discussed as if it were uncontroversial. The instructions were worded to put “Greens first of major parties”. Gerry, the WA lead candidate who was entrusted to fill in the remaining details of preferences, does not think the WA Nationals are a “major” party. He says he checked to confirm the Nationals were not to be understood as a “major” party. The National Council, however, was not asked to confirm.
What combination of factors, again, I cannot say — an independent review would establish that. What I can say is that it was a disaster and a betrayal to Scott Ludlam, and I can only apologise for not having been more proactive in defending him.
As things have turned out, given the views and the people within the party, and the response as received, and it was always going to be difficult to achieve a non-catastrophic outcome. Strong commitment at the center of the party to deals seen as unscrupulous and unprincipled by supporters was a train wreck waiting to happen. Having to fight such outcomes so hard to avoid them, only to see them reappear, while fighting a decline in internal democracy, shows the dysfunction of a party of which I can no longer be a part.
The final straw for me was Julian’s explanation of the fiasco on Triple J hack on Tuesday night — after a full day of frantic communication within the party, including to his inbox.
He said the following, in flagrant contradiction of everything that had been happening within the party, going to him and his inbox.
There was a decision that preferences would be done by the states, by the candidates in the states.
This is wrong. Preferences decisions were made by the National Council and were binding on the party. It was only in Julian’s proposal that candidates were given free rein over preferencing — and that proposal also gave Julian veto power and reduced the National Council to a sham, and was rejected.
In WA there’s no decision to preference the nationals ahead of Scott Ludlam. There was a decision to preference a new entrant into the WA political field, an Australian Aboriginal, who happens to be a member of the National Party, and to symbolically, I suppose, display him in the preference list… Where possible, where we see shining stars in individual parties, like Scott, or this guy from the Nats, we should individually preference them higher.
This might be interpreted as a poor excuse, but it is also wrong. 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.
Now what happened in WA was not a mistake, it was a reflection of my mandate to WA, that Scott Ludlam as an individual was to be preferenced highly, but minors who didn’t have a chance of getting elected would be put in front of him, which is normally what is done.
If Julian has talked to anyone in the party at all within the last several days, or checked his email inbox, he knows at least the outline of what is going on. And he should know that the perceived betrayal of Scott is precisely one of the factors causing members, volunteers, coordinators, and now National Council members to desert the party. He upset already-heartbroken volunteers and activists further with this statement.
Nor does Julian have any mandate of his own over preferences. He could have set up a party where he had autocratic power, the power to mandate preferences. But he did not. He and his father set up a party that had a reasonably democratic structure, with a democratic National Council. Without that internal democracy I would never have agreed to join the Council, and as it is reduced to a sham I must leave it.
The National Council this morning put out a statement calling for an immediate review. Immediately it was undermined from within the party, with calls for delays and more. I needed no further confirmation. But I still waited until concerned council members had exhausted all possible options. They are now exhausted. I must resign.
I feel very sorry for all those who remain behind in the party, or who have left because of the disillusionment this has caused them. I know that dozens have put their heart and soul into this party because they believed it to be a party of principle, a party of integrity. I know thousands rushed to join a party they thought they could believe in, and millions around the world have been inspired and have taken courage because of the actions of Wikileaks and Julian Assange. I can only apologise to them for not having worked harder to defend the principles of the party; but I know that, had I stayed on, it would have been an increasingly losing battle.
I know I may be criticised for jumping ship instead of weathering the storm. But the public, and especially the party’s supporters, deserve to know what happened and what has happened behind the scenes in this fiasco within the party of transparency, and I have decided that this is the best course of action.
For those that continue in the party, I wish them luck and all the best. The candidates are without exception remarkable people, highly qualified, experts in diverse fields, committed, hard-working, outstanding, talented human beings. If nothing else, I am glad that a party has arisen which has attracted people of this calibre to stand for electoral office. I continue to support all the party’s candidates.
Hopefully the revelations here help those inside and outside the party to clear the air and decide their own next move. They now know something of the internal structure and politics. Hopefully those who stay can reclaim its internal democracy and rebuild the support base from the movement that has swept it into existence. I will continue to support that movement as best I can, but now from the outside.
* * *
Having resigned, I can now say that in WA I would encourage voters to put Scott Ludlam first, and the Wikileaks candidates next. Scott’s unrelenting support for Wikileaks and Julian Assange, for transparency and civil liberties — even as against a stonewalling government, even as against a bipartisan consensus, and even as the Wikileaks party apparently betrayed him — speaks volumes about a man who I must now endorse even above my own previous party.
The two Wikileaks candidates in WA are excellent and if they stay on, I have great respect for them, although I disagree with Gerry’s decision to preference the Nationals. Gerry has his reasons and he has stated them repeatedly; he has his principles and I respect them. His record of courageous journalism and transparency fully qualifies him for the #2 spot. Suresh Rajan is also an excellent candidate and deserves #3.
In NSW, the Wikileaks candidates Kellie Tranter and Alison Bronoiwski are fantastic people for whom I have the greatest respect and admiration, and if they continue, I recommend giving them the highest preferences. I would recommend putting the Greens above the major parties, and obviously Australia First and Shooters & Fishers down the bottom.
The Victorian candidates Leslie Cannold and Binoy Kampmark are top-notch thinkers, deeply committed, remarkable human beings and would shake this country up as senators. I am not sure they will stay on, but I wish them the best in any case.
As for Julian, I am afraid that my experiences with this party are not all positive. It pains me, as we have been friends since university days, we used to make maths puzzles together, and I helped him in the founding of Wikileaks — from 2006 until 2008, when I was outrageously sued by a Swiss bank over some Wikileaks publications, and won. I am sorry that I must leave the party under these circumstances.
He really ought not to have set up a party with internal democracy. As his own political self, he has many innovative ideas, influence, eloquence, knowledge, and skills. Despite recent events, his election as a senator is still probably the most potent possible outcome of the upcoming election. And of course, we must never forget that the publications of Wikileaks have changed the world, and Julian has become an historic figure and icon. His potential extradition to the US must be resisted at all costs.
He is, however, his own man, and not one suited to a party with democratic National Council oversight. I wish him luck and all the best for the election and the future.
– Dr Daniel V. Mathews, 21/8/13