The number two Senate candidate for the WikiLeaks Party in New South Wales, Dr Alison Broinowski, says she will remain on the ticket despite a dramatic schism that opened inside the party late on Wednesday, precipitating the resignation of a high profile WikiLeaks candidate in Victoria and a number of the party’s national council members.
Dr Broinowski says she consulted with the party secretary John Shipton (the father of Julian Assange) on Thursday morning and as a result, has decided that a controversial series of preferencing decisions that outraged many party supporters were a mistake.
‘‘ I am satisfied that no skulduggery was in evidence, nothing that would reflect evil intent on the part of anyone involved, so I am prepared to go along with the explanation of it as an error’’ she told Fairfax Media on Thursday.
She said the people responsible were ‘‘ deeply distressed’’ and that there would be an inquiry into the ‘‘error’’ but that the results of the inquiry would not be known until after the election.
Earlier on Thursday, party founder Mr Assange, speaking from the Ecuadorian emabassy in London where he remains holed up seeking asylum, sought to play down the impact of the swag of high-profile resignations from his Senate campaign team on Wednesday.
Among those resigning was his number two running mate on the WikiLeaks Victorian ticket, ethicist Dr Leslie Cannold, and four members of the party’s national council, who complained that a decision to hold an independent inquiry into the controversial preferencing decisions was already being undermined.
Julian Assange earlier dismissed claims the WikiLeaks Party is in crisis after the shock resignation of his running mate and said he took full responsibility for the mishandling of preferences in Western Australia.
Speaking from London, Mr Assange has said that he does not believe other WikiLeaks Party candidates will follow Leslie Cannold, who quit the party on Wednesday, along with National Council member Daniel Mathews, after what they said was a mishandling of preference decisions by the party.
Dr Cannold told ABC TV on Thursday that it was possible that other candidates would follow her lead and on Twitter, posted that quitting the party was "the hardest thing I've ever done".
Mr Assange, who is currently holed up in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London, told ABC Radio on Thursday that the party's six other candidates (which includes himself) were "going strong".
"I'm not sure I'd call it chaos, although of course it is a significant event," he said of the resignations.
He blamed the preference mishandling on too much delegation.
The party came under fire for directing its preferences to the Shooters and Fishers Party and the white nationalist Australia First Party ahead of both major parties and the Greens in the NSW Senate race.
And in WA, the WikiLeaks party preferenced the Nationals in the Senate ahead of one of their biggests supporters, Greens Senator Scott Ludlum.
In response Mr Assange said: "More broadly I see the issues as too much delegation, of over delegation . . . I take full responsibility.''
He said he was dealing with a nine-hour time difference from London and had been concentrating his energies on the case of intelligence leaker Edward Snowden – which he described as "saving a young man's life".
Mr Assange said that WikiLeaks had a third Victorian senate candidate who would replace Dr Cannold in the second spot, as his running mate.
"Fortunately we have an extremely able additional candidate," Mr Assange said, describing Melbourne academic Binoy Kampmark as a "first rate candidate".
"[I would be] Personally more happy seeing him in the Senate, should it come to that, than Leslie Cannold."
The resignation of two of the party's most prominent members, ethicist Dr Cannold, and Mr Mathews, late on Wednesday came with damning resignation statements.
Dr Mathews, who described himself as a friend since university days of Mr Assange, said the decision had pained him but "I am afraid that my experiences with this party are not all positive".
He said the preference bungle had caused a "catastrophic loss to the party".
More to go?
Three other WikiLeaks council members, Sam Castro, Kaz Cochrane and Luke Pearson and three campaign staff were also resigning late on Wednesday.
Dr Cannold tweeted that there had been "5 more #wikileaksparty resignations" in addition to Dr Mathews'.
Ms Castro told Fairfax Media she and other members of the WikiLeaks Australian Citizens Alliance had tried for two hours to get a call through to Mr Assange in London on Wednesday evening, and had also tried unsuccessfully to convene a crisis meeting of the Council.
Alison Broinowski, a former diplomat who is number two on WikiLeaks' Senate ticket in NSW, says she is considering her position following the resignations. But Dr Broinowski said she "didn't like taking things on and giving them up" without a very serious reason to do so.
She said she would meet her NSW running mate, human rights activist Kellie Tranter, on Thursday to review the facts before deciding her next move.
"There are a number of different people involved so there are different explanations and justifications for what occurred, but this is not what I joined the party for," Dr Broinowski said.
"I don't think the preference issue matters fundamentally."
In her statement Dr Cannold said the party's national council had resolved to have an "independent review" of an administrative "error" in preference allocation that had led to the situations in NSW and WA.
Dr Cannold claimed she had learnt that a party member was allegedly subverting the decision of the council about the review, and she no longer had faith in the organisation's ability to operate according to principles of "democracy, transparency and accountability".
Dr Mathews gave a similar account, saying he was resigning because "the recent fiasco over Senate preferences . . . caused a catastrophic loss to the party'' and that the review agreed on had been "immediately undermined".
As the No. 2 on the party's Victorian Senate ticket, Dr Cannold had been slated to take the place of the party's lead candidate, Mr Assange, should he have been elected and unable to physically take his seat.
No body blow
WikiLeaks campaign adviser Greg Barns said the party would deal with "governance issues" after the election, but denied that Dr Cannold's resignation had dealt a body blow to its Senate campaign.
"I note she is not the only member of a political party in this campaign who has decided to resign or has been sacked" he said.
Dr Mathew's statement painted a picture of a council torn between pragmatism and principle, as members agonised over whether to do preference deals with right-wing parties.
Dr Mathews is particularly outraged by Wikileaks preferencing of Australia First over Greens senator Scott Ludlam in WA.
He said Mr Assange should have known 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 said a statement from Mr Assange stating that preferencing decisions had been left to candidates in each state was "in flagrant contradiction of everything that had been happening within the party".
In a blistering statement, Ms Cannold said she could not remain as a candidate because to do so would be implicitly making a statement that the WikiLeaks Party was what it claimed to be – "a democratically run party that both believes in transparency and accountability, and operates in this way".
"Over the last few weeks those of us resigning and some others have been struggling to make this true," she said.
"Over the course of the vigorous debates that have taken place over preferences there have been consistent challenges to the rights of the National Council, the 11 person democratic governing body of the WikiLeaks Party, to do its job: to make democratic, transparent and accountable decisions.
Since June when I joined the campaign, I have been concerned that where disagreement exists with decisions council makes, these have been white-anted and resisted, forcing council to reaffirm these decisions and assert their right to make them.
"At one point, there was a direct challenge to the council's democratic right to decide and implement decisions about preference and instead proposed that it become a rubber stamp. This was rejected by council."