Daniel Andrews (pictured last week) has been dragged into a corruption inquiry
Daniel Andrews has been dragged into a corruption scandal which has already claimed the scalp of one Victorian minister.
In an anti-corruption hearing on Monday, federal Labor MP Anthony Byrne admitted paying for people’s party membership fees to boost support for his moderate faction in a practice known as branch stacking which is against party rules.
Mr Byrne said he worked alongside state MPs Adem Somyurek Luke Donnellan, who resigned as Child Protection Minister on Monday.
In bombshell evidence, Mr Byrne said he made a deal in 2002 with a member of the opposing socialist left faction to ‘minimise’ branch stacking – but did not reveal who the MP was.
After Mr Byrne’s evidence, Mr Somyurek Tweeted: ‘Dan and I went into parliament in 2002, what a coincidence’.
Mr Andrews, who is from the socialist left faction, has denied branch stacking. ‘I follow the party rules and behave appropriately,’ he said on Tuesday.
Mr Somyurek was sacked from state cabinet in June 2020 after 60 Minutes aired allegations that he was involved in branch stacking.
He strongly denies the claims and has launched defamation proceedings against Nine Network, The Age and investigative reporter Nick McKenzie.
Federal Labor leader Anthony Albanese was quizzed on the scandal on Tuesday.
He said he was not aware that Mr Byrne was involved in branch stacking.
‘I’m not a member of the Victorian branch. Nor do I have a detailed knowledge of the whole electorate and you’d be surprised if I did,’ he said.
Mr Albanese also said Labor was not the only party guilty of branch stacking.
‘There is a bit of branch stacking and Liberal Party,’ he said, later adding: ‘I will stamp out corruption wherever I see it.’
Frontbencher Jason Clare said branch stacking was widespread in federal politics and called for Scott Morrison to introduce a federal corruption watchdog.
Mr Byrne’s claims also have implications for federal Labor whose leader, Anthony Albanese (pictured in the pub in St Peters, Sydney on Monday), is yet to comment on the scandal
‘Anybody who tells you this doesn’t happen at a federal level, is just frankly naïve and it’s long past time that we set up a body with real teeth to help to make sure that where corruption occurs at a federal level, just stamp it out, and I call on the Prime Minister again: what are you waiting for?’ Mr Clare told Sky News on Tuesday morning.
Former Labor leader Bill Shorten also weighed in, saying the evidence heard by Victoria’s corruption watchdog IBAC was ’embarrassing’ for the party.
‘The evidence which was put forward was startling. It was frankly incredibly disappointing, and I also think for the vast majority of ALP members… was just embarrassing,’ he told Nine’s Today show.
‘This isn’t the way that our political parties should be operating. And you know, IBAC’s still got a fair way to go,’ he said.
Commentators say the scandal could cause Sydney-based Mr Albanese a headache in the run-up to the federal election, excepted in March, by leaving Victorian Labor organisationally weak.
Victoria is a Labor stronghold where the party holds 21 out of 37 federal seats.
Labor member for Holt Anthony Byrne (left) admitted paying for people’s party membership fees to boost support for his moderate faction in a practice known as branch stacking
First blood: Dan Andrews’ minister and political ally falls on sword after just ONE day of public hearings into alleged corruption within his party – and more scalps are set to follow
By Wayne Flower
A public inquiry into alleged corruption within Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews’ government 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
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.
Former Victorian minister Adem Somyurek has been accused of branch stacking
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
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.
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.
Adem Somyurek (right) and Premier Daniel Andrews (centre) were once close allies