News Federal Labor weighs up future of Victorian branch amid stacking scandal

Federal Labor weighs up future of Victorian branch amid stacking scandal

The Labor Party wants Parliament to sit again in August, under a COVID-safe plan. Photo: AAP
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It could be a day of reckoning on Tuesday for Victorian Labor, as the federal executive weighs up plans to clean up the state division.

Premier Daniel Andrews has already sacked one senior member of his cabinet, while another resigned, after the release of secret tapes during a major investigation into branch-stacking.

But the fallout from the scandal is far from over.

Mr Andrews is expected to face intense questioning over what he knew about the allegations, and further calls to dump other team members embroiled in the scandal. Federal Labor leaders will also meet on Tuesday to discuss how to respond to the allegations.

An investigation by The Age and 60 Minutes on Monday led to the sacking of upper house MP Adem Somyurek, amid allegations he handed over cash and used parliamentary staff to create fake branch members and amass political influence.

It has also been alleged staff members of Consumer Affairs, Gaming and Liquor Regulation Minister Marlene Kairouz and former assistant treasurer and minister for veteran affairs Robin Scott were involved in Mr Somyurek’s efforts.

Mr Scott resigned on Monday afternoon – the second minister to go within hours. Mr Somyurek, who was sacked, apologised for offensive language he was heard using, but denied the allegations.

In the aftermath of the reports, federal Labor leader Anthony Albanese fronted up on the ABC’s 7.30 on Monday night to defend the party, its members and himself.

Mr Somyurek had been caught on tape bragging about his status as a kingmaker and saying that he was there to ‘‘protect Albo’’, a line that  Prime Minister Scott Morrison had much fun with in question time on Monday asking: “Protect him from whom?”

Secret tapes were used as evidence to highlight allegations of branch-stacking. Photo: AAP/Nine/TND

Mr Albanese gave that short shrift, claiming he hardly knew Mr Somyurek, despite his previous role on Labor’s national executive.

“He is someone I have barely met,” the Labor leader told Leigh Sales.

“What’s concerning here … is that when you have branch stacking [it’s] a distortion, essentially, of outcomes – and it does need to be stamped out … I find it extraordinary that a minister in a government isn’t focusing on their ministerial portfolio.

“What all of my members have been focusing on is their shadow ministerial roles or roles as local member. They have been concerned about making a difference to people.

People join the Labor Party to campaign for the Labor Party for Labor governments against the conservative and reactionary forces in our society. Most people don’t join for internal purposes.

“What we saw … very clearly from Mr Somyurek, was not seeking political power in order to change society, in order to make a difference, it was political power for its own sake.”

Mr Albanese had less to say when questioned over the apparent recording of Mr Somyurek in the office of federal Victorian MP Anthony Byrne, who sits on the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security.

“Look, I’m not aware of all the details of that,” Mr Albanese said.

“That’s a matter for Channel Nine and 60 Minutes …my job isn’t to investigate.

“Premier Andrews has forwarded investigations on to the anti-corruption body in Victoria and on to the police and that’s appropriate.”

Despite a sordid history of political scandals since the Rum Corps, Australians prefer to think of their nation as mostly free of the corruption.

However, over the years there has been plenty of blame to go around.

At a state level the 1980s Fitzgerald Inquiry into police and National Party corruption in Queensland remains the gold standard, with the recent imprisonment of Labor powerbroker Eddie Obeid also laying bare the arrogance at the heart of power in New South Wales.

But while those dirty politicians were named and shamed by both sides of politics, after Sunday night’s revelations something else happened – social media exploded with criticism of the journalists doing the investigation.

The social media platform was awash with criticism of the year-long Nine expose on the Labor scandal, with many pointing out a laundry list of issues, complaints and dodgy practices by the conservative side of politics.

The response highlighted how the job of holding all politicians to account has become harder in the era of tribal hot takes and short attention spans.

It also prompted an angry response from Age Investigations editor Michael Bachelard, who hit back at critics who claimed the investigation was biased against Labor.

Mr Albanese accepted on 7.30 that Mr Somyurek’s conduct was reprehensible and that Labor would stamp out such behaviour.

The ALP’s national executive committee issued a statement saying it had moved to revoke Mr Somyurek’s membership.

“What I’m concerned about is those men and women who join the Labor Party join overwhelmingly for all the right reasons,” Mr Albanese said.

“They join because they want their kids to get a better education. They want better health care. They want a better standard of living. They want industrial rights. They want to see action on climate change.

“That’s why people join the Labor Party. And if you have non-genuine members joining, then that’s a distortion of that.”