Victorian Government Rocked by Allegations of Corruption and Branch Stacking

Victorian Government Rocked by Allegations of Corruption and Branch Stacking
Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews speaks during the State Commemoration for the 10 year anniversary of the 2009 Victorian bushfires in Melbourne, Australia on Feb. 4, 2019. (Michael Dodge/Getty Images)

The Victorian Labor government is facing allegations of corruption and branch-stacking within the Victorian Labor party. The state’s Premier Daniel Andrews has now lost three ministers from his cabinet as increasing scrutiny grows over their roles in the developing scandal.

A year-long joint investigative report released by Channel Nine’s 60 Minutes program on June 14 and The Age newspaper on June 15, accused the former Victorian Minister for Local Government and Small Business Abed Somyurek of branch stacking, corruption, and taxpayer-funded rorting.

A member of the Australian Labor Party’s (ALP) national executive—the governing and policy-making body of the ALP—Somyurek was allegedly exposed in a series of tape and video recordings, working with parliamentary staffers to flood Victorian branches of the Labor party with new members who would support his party faction.

Known as “branch-stacking,” factions in political parties attempt to influence who is the preselected candidate in a seat by flooding local branches with newly recruited members. Utilising what is called “warehousing,” branch stacking is often hidden away by utilising fake addresses for those signing up, and then once they are accepted moving them to different district branches.

In the case of Somyurek, The Age alleges that the former Victorian minister utilised both branch stacking and warehousing to appear to recruit hundreds of new members to his faction in the ALP throughout Victoria.

According to the reports by 60 Minutes and The Age, Somyurek targeted ethnic groups, like the Victorian Indian community, registering and paying for ALP memberships in exchange for their support of his candidates.

The Age reported that Somyurek wanted to use his branch stacking to become a powerbroker within the Australian Labor Party. The Age reported on June 15 that Somyurek said: “I'll be just running the joint, like, it’s who I say is going to be the [expletive] premier.”

“Maybe we do just have a big [expletive] ’stackathon'. That’s all they’re doing, stacking Anglos. Anglos just [expletive] off after a while. The Indians are [expletive] ... we can put a thousand in. They’re all [expletive] fully resourced. They know the Indians can turn up,” Somyurek is purported to have said.

“Our people have been putting like industrial-scale numbers, you know, just [expletive] masses for a year,” Somyurek is purported to have said.

Somyurek is also accused of threatening to remove fellow cabinet ministers like Gabrielle Williams, who he allegedly described in the recordings as “a stupid, stupid [expletive].”

Daniel Andrews Removes Somyurek from Ministerial Post

Premier Andrews responded to the reported allegations by removing Somyurek from his ministerial post. In a media release on June 15, Andrews said: “Mr Somyurek’s comments are derogatory and offensive and are unacceptable to the government. His threatening language towards Gabrielle Williams, the Minister for Women, is a disgrace and cannot be tolerated.”

The Premier went on to say that he contacted the Governor and recommended that Somyurek’s ministerial commission be terminated, and the Governor had accepted.

Andrews noted he had referred the allegations made by the reports to the Independent Broad-based Anti-corruption Commission and the Victorian Police for investigation.

Andrews said he had also contacted the National Executive of the Australian Labor Party asking that Somyurek’s membership be terminated.

Supporting Andrews’s actions, national leader of the ALP Anthony Albanese said in an interview on Studio Ten on June 16: “Daniel Andrews showed strong leadership as the Premier of Victoria by immediately removing Mr Somyurek as the minister.”
“The real tragedy here is most people join political parties for all the right reasons, in order to improve their kids’ education or improve health outcomes, make climate change action happen, or other issues of concern. They don’t join just to try to secure power for its own sake. And that is what we saw on display on Sunday night. It was inappropriate,” said Albanese.

Victorian Government Loses More Ministers

The 60 Minutes program and The Age report also mentioned several Victorian ministers and ALP officials who allegedly aided Somyurek in the alleged activities. Victorian Ministers’ Robin Scott and Marlene Kairouz were named by the report as close allies of Somyurek. The reports allege both provided parliamentary staffers to aid in the alleged branch stacking and corruption.
On June 15 former Assistant Treasurer for Victoria Robin Scott announced via a media release that he would be resigning his commission to focus on clearing his name.

“The Australian Labor Party has played an enormous part in my life and champions values that I hold particularly dear. Because of this, I found the recent reporting of matters relating to the administration of the Party, especially confronting,” said Scott.

“To the extent that these matters relate to my conduct, I look forward to the opportunity to clear my name. I am very confident that the investigative process will do so,” Scott said.

Former Minister for Consumer Affairs, Gaming, and Liquor Regulation Marlene Kairouz also resigned her ministerial posting on June 16. In a media release, she said she would stand aside because she no longer wanted these matters “to be a distraction to the government. They have placed enormous pressure on my family and caused them great distress.”

“I look forward to the opportunity to clear my name and am confident any investigative process will do so,” said Kairouz

Victoria Kelly-Clark is an Australian based reporter who focuses on national politics and the geopolitical environment in the Asia-pacific region, the Middle East and Central Asia.
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