A public inquiry into alleged corruption within Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews’ government has produced its first scalp within hours of opening.
Victorian Labor minister Luke Donnellan sensationally resigned from Cabinet on Monday after the Independent Broad-based Anti-corruption Commission heard an allegation he had paid for other people’s party memberships.
He will move to the backbench in disgrace after he was thrown under the bus by Federal Labor MP Anthony Byrne, who has admitted to rampant and repeated ‘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
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
The public hearings 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.
On announcing his resignation on Monday afternoon, 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 for Child Protection and Disability, Ageing and Carers.
However, he refused to be drawn into the scandal, which has already exposed damning allegations of dodgy practices throughout the Labor party.
‘Due to inquiries currently on foot, I will not be making further comment,’ Mr Andrews stated on Monday.
Mr Donnellan claimed he had only stepped down for breaking party rules over the supposedly shunned practice of branch stacking.
‘I don’t believe it is possible or appropriate to maintain my Ministerial responsibilities given these rule breaches,’ he stated.
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.
Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews has refused to comment on the IBAC investigation. He is pictured during the public inquiry into his disastrous hotel quarantine scheme
Adem Somyurek (right) and Premier Daniel Andrews (centre) were once close allies
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.
In a day of drama, the inquiry heard Mr Donnellan was involved in a factional alliance with former state Labor minister Adem Somyurek and contributed to a kitty that was used to pay for ALP memberships to control branches and secure positions in Parliament for allies.
Over the course of the day, Mr Byrne made a series of claims that suggested Mr Somyurek was an ALP powerbroker, who was behind a widespread branch stacking operations.
‘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 he blew the whistle on Mr Somyurek amid fears he was driving the party ‘off a cliff’ with the dodgy practice.
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.
Commissioner Robert Redlich speaks during the Operation Watts public hearing on Monday
Counsel Assisting Chris Carr grilled Federal Labor MP Anthony Byrne on Monday at the IBAC hearing
Victorian Labor minister Luke Donnellan did not survive day one of the IBAC inquiry
He is yet to face the public inquiry, which is being live streamed into homes across the country.
Mr Byrne told the inquiry he and Mr Somyurek had been close allies and would hold ALP fundraisers to pay for the memberships of branch stacked participants.
Both Mr Somyurek and Mr Donnellan once worked in Mr Byrne’s electoral office.
Mr Byrne said in 2002 he reached out to the party’s socialist left faction to broker a deal to minimise branch stacking in the southeast and at the time, his faction expressed “intense frustration” at him.
‘Branch stacking was corrupt, branch stacking rips the soul out of the Labor party and the community,’ he said.
Asked if Labor head office turned a blind eye, Mr Byrne replied: ‘I don’t know if I would say blind eye … I would say felt powerless to stop it’.
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.
He told IBAC Commissioner Robert Redlich, QC that he had hoped Mr Somyurek would stop the practice upon becoming a minister, but he refused.
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.