A federal MP has alleged that the Australian Labor Party’s Victorian branch “was completely out of control” on the first day of the Independent Broad-based Anti-corruption Commission’s (IBAC) public hearings into allegations of corruption and branch stacking by Labor MPs and their taxpayer-funded staff.
It is also investigating if public money granted by the Victorian government has been misused to fund party-political activities or for other improper purposes.
Long-standing member for Holt, federal Labor MP Anthony Byrne, in his testimony on Monday, said that he had been concerned about corrupt practices in the Victorian branch of the ALP for many years.
“The party was completely out of control. I saw things and heard things that I didn’t think I’d ever see in a modern Labor party,” Byrne said.
“I’m referring to branch stacking; I’m referring to the coercion of staff being made to do things they didn’t want to do. I was referring to party being taken over by one person whose sole objective was power and power alone.”
When asked by counsel assisting the inquiry Chris Carr SC who was the person he indicated in his comments, Byrne replied: “Adem Somyurek.”
He said he observed Somyurek and Labor MP Marlene Kairouz coercing their taxpayer-funded electorate and ministerial staff to do political factional work during paid hours.
In Australia, political parties choose representatives to stand for office via a preselection system that relies on members in each electoral branch voting for their preferred candidate.
Practitioners of branch stacking will recruit and sign-up members to influence the outcome of preselecting candidates. While not illegal, the practice is banned under Australian Labor Party (ALP) rules.
Byrne is intimately involved in the investigation after it was reported that secretly-recorded tapes filmed by 60 Minutes and The Age that show state Labor MP Adem Somyurek participating in branch stacking and corruption were filmed in Byrne’s local office in Melbourne.
Bryne went on to allege branch stacking was “widely practiced” within the party and named several MPs, who he said allegedly engaged in branch stacking, including Tim Richardson and Kaushaliya Vaghela.
Byrne also admitted that he was connected to branch stacking; his seat of Holt was obtained with the assistance of factional ‘heavyweights’ when the previous MP, Gareth Evans, retired.
Further, he admitted that he pays around $2000 towards memberships every year, saying that the system is “well entrenched” and stated that Somyurek and Labor minister Luke Donnellan would have spent “roughly the same amount, perhaps more in the past couple of years.”
Byrne also revealed donations from fundraisers were regularly used to renew memberships and this behaviour was “so overt” that people who attended these fundraisers would be aware “that some or all of their contributions would be used for these [membership renewal] contributions”.
The federal MP also noted that members of the ALP aspiring to become politicians would be encouraged to make monetary membership donations so that they would be “favoured” for seats when they open. He alleged that a former advisor to Bill Shorten, Steve Michelson, for example, paid $5,000 for a federal seat with the understanding that he would be given preferential treatment when the previous MP “retired or was pushed out of the seat.”