Labor can't find culprit for dead membership renewals

Diego Fedele/AAP PHOTOS

Victorian Labor has closed a brief internal probe into the renewal of party memberships for dead people, declaring it was unable to identify who allegedly forged their signatures.

Inaugural party monitor John Thwaites reviewed the former Lalor South branch after records showed Celestino Nigro and Antonio Donato had their memberships renewed in 2018 and 2019 despite both having died in 2017.

In a letter to acting Victorian Labor state secretary Cameron Petrie on Friday, Mr Thwaites said he spoke with and obtained correspondence from members he thought could shed light on what he described as an egregious act.

Members denied involvement in forging signatures on renewal forms, paying other people's membership fees, breaching party rules, and knowledge of who may have been involved or responsible.

"In light of the denials and explanations I have received, there is insufficient evidence to conclude that any particular person was responsible for renewing members posthumously or otherwise breaching the branch rules," wrote Mr Thwaites.

Documents revealed by The Australian newspaper on August 15 showed just 13 of Lalor South's 132 members remained registered after an extensive audit in 2020 sparked by branch-stacking revelations within a Labor faction.

The now-abolished branch was also alleged to be the only one in Victoria where non-traceable means were used to pay for 100 per cent of membership fees.

Energy Minister Lily D'Ambrosio was a member of the branch and reportedly allowed it to hold meetings at her Mill Park electorate office each month as recently as July 2019.

Ms D'Ambrosio, who is a member of Labor's powerful Socialist Left faction and now linked to another branch, has categorically denied any wrongdoing.

While unable to to determine who was responsible, Mr Thwaites said the conduct was possible due to inadequate membership processes prior to the audit led by Labor stalwarts Jenny Macklin and Steve Bracks.

Labor has since banned cash payments for memberships, stopped bulk renewals and subsumed smaller branches within larger ones with greater oversight and governance.

"Having reviewed the membership arrangements in light of the substantial changes made by the administrators, I am confident that such conduct could not be repeated now," Mr Thwaites added.

Mr Thwaites, who was deputy premier in the Bracks government, said he did not consider remaining Victorian Labor branch members from Lalor South to represent a risk to the integrity of the current membership.

"In my view, the administrators' work was effective in removing non-genuine members from the membership and will otherwise protect the Victorian Branch against those who seek to subvert its processes," he concluded.

Following a recommendation from Mr Thwaites, Mr Petrie offered an apology to the families of Mr Nigro and Mr Donato for the distress and hurt caused over the renewal of their dead loved ones' memberships.