City of Ballarat council candidate Ron Egeberg has been expelled from the Labor Party for refusing to preference fellow ALP members at the recent local government elections, despite running as an independent candidate.
Egeberg, who did not win a place on council in the Central ward, preferenced newly-elected mayor and Liberal Party member Samantha Mclntosh second and ALP member Gary Fitzgerald third. Egeberg placed fellow ALP member Will Bennett fifth on the six-candidate ballot.
According to ALP rules, “if the ALP does not participate in a local municipal election, any ALP member standing for election to a municipal vacancy shall be required to direct preferences to any and all other ALP members standing for the same vacancy before any other candidate”.
Mr Egeberg said while he had always disclosed his membership of the ALP, he campaigned as an independent candidate and was not aware of the rule.
“In my view there is no place for party politics in local government,” Mr Egeberg said. “I have views on what is right for our community, and from time to time that does not align with the Labor Party.”
The complaint against Mr Egeberg was lodged to the state secretary of the Victorian ALP branch following the election and he was officially expelled for two years on November 23 after refusing to front a hearing for the complaint.
While ALP members are forced to preference fellow members in local government elections, they are not forced to disclose either their party affiliation or the reasons behind their preferences in any of their material.
In 2016 the VEC provided a platform for council candidates to lodge any relevant political affiliations, however the body does not formally recognise the role of political parties in local elections, even where candidates have been endorsed by a party.
Political scientist at Monash University’s School of Social Sciences Dr Zareh Ghazarian said voters would find it hard to believe candidates were genuinely independent if their party affiliation affected their conduct.
“If you have a member of a political party who is purporting to be independent yet they consistently side with their own party, then clearly the idea of being a true independent won’t wash with voters,” Dr Ghazarian said.
ALP Victoria assistant state secretary Kosmos Samaras said the preference rule had been in place for more than 20 years and it did not imply the party was influencing the independence of affiliated candidates.
“We don’t instruct them on how they should express themselves politically and we don't attempt to influence them,” Mr Samaras said.