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Victorian premier denies branch stacking


By Benita Kolovos in Melbourne
Source: AAP

Premier Daniel Andrews’ faction in the Victorian Labor Party has been accused of branch stacking but he denies any wrongdoing on his part.

Federal MP Anthony Byrne told an Independent Broad-based Anti-corruption Commission inquiry on Tuesday the socialist left faction was engaged in branch stacking, particularly in the southeast of Melbourne.

Mr Byrne a day earlier told the inquiry he, state government minister Luke Donnellan and then-Labor powerbroker Adem Somyurek were paying for other people’s party memberships to boost their moderate faction’s influence in Melbourne’s southeast, and to ensure their preferred candidates were preselected.

The practice is not illegal but is against Labor party rules.

IBAC is investigating whether public funds were used for such work.

Mr Donnellan resigned from his cabinet post on Monday afternoon, admitting he breached party rules but “never misused public funds or resources in any way”.

Mr Andrews is part of the socialist left but told reporters outside parliament on Tuesday he had not attended factional meetings since he became Victorian Labor leader in 2010.

“I follow the party’s rules and I behave appropriately,” he told reporters.

“If you go and ask (wife) Cath and the kids, they’ll tell you I’ve had no time to do much else other than my parliamentary and my ministerial duties.”

Mr Andrews conceded there was a “cultural problem” within the party but he had taken “unprecedented action” to remedy it, including by ordering an audit of Victorian Labor members.

Mr Byrne told the IBAC inquiry branch stacking could be curbed if paying for other people’s membership was criminalised.

Commissioner Robert Redlich QC said despite a review into the practice in the 1990s and an ombudsman’s report in 2018 which found the Labor party misused taxpayer funds, the practice was “endemic”.

He asked Mr Byrne if it was reasonable to infer that apart from occasional statements about eradicating the cultural problem, “there hasn’t until now been a sufficient will to really do so?”

“I agree with you completely,” the MP replied.

The inquiry also heard from Mr Somyurek’s former executive assistant Ellen Schreiber, who was hired in January 2019 to set up his ministerial office.

Ms Schreiber said between June and July 2019, “80 per cent” of her taxpayer-funded work day involved dealing with ALP memberships and factional work.

When she left the following month to work for Mr Byrne, Ms Schreiber said Mr Somyurek “verbally abused” her.

“He was mad like a cut snake. He spat venom at me, ‘You’re a f***ing idiot, why are you working for a backbencher, Anthony does nothing out there, he’s lazy, you’re not going to go anywhere with your career’,” she said.

Ms Schreiber said she never raised concerns about the work she was doing for Mr Somyurek because she wanted to keep her job.

Mr Somyurek quit the Labor Party last year before he was expelled following a Nine Network investigation into the scandal.

His factional allies Robin Scott and Marlene Kairouz also resigned from cabinet following the expose. All three deny wrongdoing.

Arriving at parliament on Tuesday, Deputy Premier James Merlino and ministers Jacinta Allan and Martin Pakula said they had never engaged in branch stacking.

Shadow attorney-general Tim Smith said every minister adversely named in IBAC’s inquiry should stand down.

“At the end of the day, the buck stops with the premier and his government looks increasingly corrupt,” he said.

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