Dan Andrews’ left leaning socialist faction linked to damning branch stacking allegations
A public inquiry into alleged corruption within Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews’ government has moved closer to directly involving him amid claims his own faction had participated in branch stacking.
On Tuesday, the Independent Broad-based Anti-corruption Commission heard the dodgy practice had been employed by the socialist left faction of Victoria’s Australian Labor Party in recent years – against its own strict rules.
Federal Labor MP Anthony Byrne, who has admitted to rampant and repeated ‘branch stacking’, ended his second day under the spotlight in stunning fashion, implicating Mr Andrews’ own faction.
Ellen Schreiber, a former electorate officer and ministerial office executive assistant, gave evidence to corruption inquiry lifting the lid on rampant branch stacking
Labor member for Holt Anthony Byrne (left) spent Monday exposing the dirty inner actions of the Australian Labor Party
Former Victorian minister Adem Somyurek has been accused of branch stacking
Victorian Labor minister Luke Donnellan has resigned from his position after day one of an the Independent Broad-based Anti-corruption Commission public inquiry
Asked how he knew of it, Mr Byrne said he had read about it in reports in addition to seeing it with his own eyes.
‘I saw some in the south eastern region and some elsewhere,’ he told the public hearing via videolink.
‘It was not at high level, but I would say the left, the socialist left (was branch stacking.’
Mr Andrews – who is a former head of Labor’s socialist left faction – has long maintained he has never had any involvement with branch stacking.
‘No. I follow the party’s rules,’ he said in June last year.
Branch stacking is a practice within political parties that sees people recruited into a branch of a political party to influence who is pre-selected as an election candidate.
It comes with the problem of certain factions of political parties boosting membership with a view that pre-selection votes ensure its preferred candidate gets the job.
It has also been banned by the ALP for decades.
Under the terms of the hearings, no-one that gives it incriminating evidence can later have it used against them in criminal proceedings, unless they are found lying.
In that instance, they will face perjury charges, which can carry sentences of up to 15 years behind bars.
The IBAC hearings have been established to investigate ‘premeditated systemic rorting of taxpayer resources’, including allegations of branch-stacking, which in itself is not illegal.
It will also look into ‘allegations that public money intended to fund community associations was misused for party‐political work or other improper purposes’.
The hearings are expected to go for at least a month and drag before it a series of ALP power brokers – possibly even the premier himself.
Much of the proceedings have heard allegations former Labor MP – and one time ally of Mr Andrews – had been rampantly branch stacking in a bid to increase his power within the Australian Labor Party.
Mr Somyurek, who denies the claims, was first elected to Victorian Parliament in 2002 and was sworn in as minister for small business, innovation and trade in the Andrews Government in December 2014.
An investigation into alleged branch stacking by Channel 9’s Nick McKenzie saw him leave the party last year.
On Monday, Mr Byrne claimed he had negotiated a branch stacking peace deal with rival powerbrokers in the early 2000s, including an unnamed parliamentarian.
After Mr Byrne gave his evidence, Mr Somyurek tweeted: ‘Dan and I went into parliament in 2002, what a coincidence’.
Ellen Schreiber, a former electorate officer and ministerial office executive assistant, told IBAC she had been yelled at for not branch stacking correctly. She is pictured here with former PM Kevin Rudd
A jovial Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews on Tuesday. He has refused to comment on the IBAC investigation.
Adem Somyurek (right) and Premier Daniel Andrews (centre) were once close allies
On Tuesday, Mr Somyurek’s barrister, Remy van de Wiel, QC, went on the attack, suggesting it was Mr Byrne who had been pulling the strings in their own faction.
‘You would have had to be on the dark side of the moon to not know that Adem Somyurek was in charge of just about everything,’ Mr Byrne responded.
Ellen Schreiber, a former electorate officer and ministerial office executive assistant, was also grilled on day two of the inquiry by counsel assisting the commission, Chris Carr, SC.
She has already told the inquiry Mr Somyurek had a furious temper and would ‘hit the roof’ when unhappy.
She described one instance where he flew into a rage upon learning members incorrectly allocated to his faction had been directed away – a process referenced as ‘warehousing’.
‘Adem got on the phone and would scream at us for doing effectively our job but we didn’t know that we weren’t supposed to be doing it,’ she said.
Ms Schreiber, who would spend up to 80 per cent of her taxpayer-funded working day on factional activities, said she was reluctant to blow the whistle because she needed the job.
‘It was a good paying job I was good at … being a female for the Labor Party has an AA rule … being a female you’re promoted so quickly in the party. It doesn’t matter. If you look at some of the MPs that have been promoted, they’re there because they’re female, not because they can do the job,’ she said.
‘And that’s what was happening. Like I said, I didn’t have a uni degree backing me, how could I be put on all these committees? I didn’t have experience. It was purely because I was there for a female not because of who I am.’
She claimed her sex had been the only reason she had been offered a job within the construction union alongside CFMEU boss John Setka.
When she refused, Mr Somyurek went into another rage.
”I remember it quite clearly, he was mad like a cut snake. He spat venom at me,’ Ms Schreiber told the inquiry.
The 27-year old claimed Mr Somyurek brought her to tears in a barrage of vile abuse.
The future of Mr Byrne, who is a longstanding MP and deputy chair of the powerful Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security, remains hanging in the balance.
Commissioner Robert Redlich speaks during the Operation Watts public hearing on Monday
Counsel Assisting Chris Carr grilled Federal Labor MP Anthony Byrne on Tuesday at the IBAC hearing
Before Mr Byrne finished-up, IBAC Commissioner Robert Redlich, QC reminded him about the gravity of his evidence.
‘Mr Byrne, you have given a great deal of evidence now that we would, in legal terminology, say is against your interests,’ he said.
‘You have acknowledged wrongdoing, you have acknowledged breaches of a range of party rules … and you have none-the-less come forward with a great deal of acknowledgement about wrong doing and to that end it’s appropriate that I indicate the Commission’s view that you’re to be commended for coming forth and speaking as openly as you have about your conduct and that of those around you.’
Mr Byrne’s evidence has already seen one of Mr Andrews’ ministers fall on his sword.
On Monday, just five hours into the inquiry, Victorian Minister for Child Protection and Disability, Ageing and Carers, Luke Donnellan, sensationally resigned from Cabinet.
Mr Byrne had accused Mr Donnellan of having paid for other people’s party memberships.
On announcing his resignation, Mr Donnellan admitted to branch stacking, but denied ever misusing public funds.
‘I accept that I have previously breached party rules while a minister. But let me be very clear: I never misused public funds or resources in any way,’ he said via a statement.
Mr Andrews released a short statement directly after in which he paid gushing tribute to the ex-Minister .
However, he refused to be drawn into the scandal, which has already exposed damning allegations of dodgy practices throughout the Labor party.
On Tuesday, Labor leader Anthony Albanese refused to speculate on Mr Byrne’s political future.
‘We will allow the IBAC processes to take their course,’ he told reporters.
‘I’m not a member of the Victorian branch, nor do I have detailed knowledge of the Holt electorate, and you’d be surprised if I did.’
THE ALLEGATIONS AGAINST ADEM SOMYUREK
Federal Labor MP Anthony Byrne claimed he blew the whistle on his former friend amid fears he was driving the party ‘off a cliff’ with his branch stacking.
‘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,’ he told the inquiry.
‘I’m referring to branch stacking, I’m referring to 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.’
Mr Byrne claimed to have tried to distance himself from Mr Somyurek after he asked him to employ two mates who had allegedly been instrumental in the then minister’s rise to power.
Mr Byrne claimed he had been asked to pay them a wage despite the pair having no intention of ever doing any actual work.
The inquiry heard Mr Byrne claimed at one stage they had stacked a ‘huge’ number of members of Indian descent in order to get one into the Andrews Government.
Mr Byrne claimed Mr Somyurek had ‘relentless focus’ on branch stacking and would instruct ministerial and electoral officers to recruit ALP members while on the clock for the taxpayer.