Federal Liberal member for Deakin and Assistant Treasurer Michael Sukkar has rejected allegations he had any knowledge that his brother, best friend, and factional supporters misused taxpayer funds for political work.
This comes as Victoria’s Independent Broad-based Anti-corruption Commission (IBAC) investigates current and former Labor MPs over the misuse of public money for “party‐political work or other improper purposes,” such as branch stacking after the 60 Minutes and The Age alleged that in 2017 and 2019 taxpayer funds for electoral office budgets were diverted towards building factional power that benefitted Sukkar.
Sukkar has previously denied any involvement in branch stacking and blamed the improper actions on a relatively junior political staffer, Josh Bonney.
It was also alleged by 60 Minutes and The Age that electoral office staff were placed in the office of MP Kevin Andrews.
Under parliament’s rules, electorate office staff cannot work on party political matters, and are employed to assist an MP to carry out their duties.
However, there is no suggestion that Michael Sukkar, his brother Paul Sukkar, Josh Bonney, Marcus Bastiaan or Kevin Andrews acted illegally, reported the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC).
Meanwhile, former vice-president of Victorian division of the Liberal Party, Marcus Bastiaan, is suing Nine network and its newspaper for defamation following the 60 Minutes report that alleged he was part of the branch-stacking scheme, reported the ABC.
Nine’s legal defence argued that “between 2016 and 2018, [Bastiaan] in conjunction with other members of the Liberal Party’s right faction, devised, co-ordinated and implemented a scheme to actively recruit new members to the Victorian division of the Liberal Party in large volumes over a comparatively short period of time,” reported the Australian Financial Review.
“The scheme was overseen by Michael Sukkar and [Mr Bastiaan],” according to the legal document obtained by the Australian Financial Review.
In a statement published late Nov. 8 after the airing of the 60 minutes report, Sukkar said it was “extremely disappointing” that the news network would republish unproven claims “from a discredited and disgruntled employee” adding that the former staff member’s allegations were “false and malicious.”
Statement on 60 Minutes. pic.twitter.com/SDqyOPkBx2
— Michael Sukkar (@MichaelSukkarMP) November 7, 2021
Furthermore, Sukkar said the Department of Finance’s independent review conducted in 2020 “did not find any breach or improper conduct.”
“When these allegations were first made on 23 August 2020, I immediately and voluntarily requested that the Department of Finance undertake an independent review of electorate office. This review thoroughly examined the staffing arrangements in the Deakin electorate office,” he said.
“Every allegation mentioned in the report was covered by the independent review undertaken by the Department of Finance last year when the allegations were first made.
“I have never authorised my staff to undertake activities contrary to applicable policies and guidelines, when they are being paid to serve the constituents of the Deakin electorate,” he said.
Treasurer Josh Frydenberg has defended Sukkar saying that if there was new information the case would “no doubt” be referred to the finance department.
“There was an independent investigation into both Andrews’ office and Sukkar’s offices, and the (department of) finance investigation found that there was no serious misuse of taxpayer’s resources,” Frydenberg said, reported News Corp.
Sukkar has also publicly apologised to Liberal senator Jane Hume after his criticism of her difficulties with juggling politics and motherhood were made public by 60 Minutes.
“They were unfair and incorrect comments that I should not have made, and I regret doing so. I apologise to Senator Hume,” he said.
“I have worked closely with Senator Hume in the last three years since both becoming Ministers in the Treasury portfolio where she has done an outstanding job.”