Opposition Labor leader Anthony Albanese has said the branch-stacking allegations levelled against members of the Victorian Liberals is a test for Prime Minister Scott Morrison.
Morrison himself expressed the same sentiment about the opposition Labor leader during the Victorian Labor branch-stacking scandal in June.
“I’m happy for Scott Morrison to be judged on his own words,” Albanese told ABC Radio National on Aug. 24. “And if Michael Sukkar is still sitting there at two o’clock as a minister, then that is a failure of Scott Morrison’s leadership.”
Sukkar is the Assistant Treasurer and Housing Minister; he was named in the 60 Minutes report as someone who allegedly benefitted from the branch-stacking but was not said to be actively involved.
Labor is calling for Sukkar to resign from the ministry.
Victorian Liberal powerbroker and former vice-president Marcus Bastiaan has rejected the claims but resigned from the Party anyway.
In a statement, Bastiaan said: “The ongoing leaking of years old historic material is an unnecessary distraction for the Liberal Party, and it is with that in mind that I have resigned.”
The allegations exposed by Nine’s 60 Minutes program date back to 2016. Sukkar and veteran MP Kevin Andrews’ offices were linked to the allegations.
Labor is demanding that Andrews also be sanctioned.
Albanese told ABC Radio National: “Someone needs to tell Scott Morrison that he’s actually in charge of the Liberal Party. That this is a scandal. That his Assistant Treasurer is in it up to his neck in his own words here. And that his position is untenable .”
But Treasurer Josh Frydenberg said Sukkar and Andrews had appropriately referred the matter to the Department of Finance for an inquiry.
Frydenberg told 2GB radio: “With respect to the program more generally, obviously the language and the conduct will be of real concern to many Liberal Party members. I share those concerns.”
“The Liberal Party will deal with those matters internally,” he said.
Victoria’s Liberal Party director Sam McQuestin told AAP: “The party will be seeking full and detailed responses from party members who were named in the 60 Minutes report or who may be able to provide further information on relevant matters.”
Taxpayer-funded electorate staff were allegedly used by members of the party’s ultra-conservative faction to recruit new members from ethnic communities and religious groups.
Secret recordings and leaked text messages also exposed plans to remove moderate state and federal politicians.
Sukkar denied any involvement.
“I have never authorised taxpayer-funded staff to undertake party political activity outside of (parliamentary) policies and guidelines,” he told AAP.
Former defence minister Kevin Andrews said: “The suggestion that I would be coerced into making decisions on staffing arrangements in my electorate office by others is untrue.”
Labor is pressuring the prime minister to act after leading the charge against branch-stacking claims within the Labor Party in June.
“We know what Scott Morrison thinks of branch stacking. In June this year, he had a very clear view. He called it corruption,” Labor frontbencher Stephen Jones told reporters.
“Scott Morrison should move to sack Michael Sukkar today.”
Morrison has argued the allegations are a matter for the Victorian branch.
Victorian Labor Party branch-stacking revelations in June resulted in the removal of three state government ministers.