Labor leader Anthony Albanese has counselled a federal MP over “unacceptable and inappropriate” leaked text messages as the fallout from the Victorian branch-stacking scandal spreads to Canberra.
In the explosive texts, federal backbencher Anthony Byrne takes aim at former ALP leader Bill Shorten, Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews and retired federal MPs Michael Danby, Alan Griffin and Sam Dastyari.
The private messages were reportedly released by disgraced former party powerbroker Adem Somyurek, after the ex-state minister agreed to cooperate with anti-corruption investigators.
Mr Bryne calls former colleague Sam Dastyari a “crooked, corrupt f—“, a female MP a “drunk” and an unnamed female ALP activist a “ratf—er”.
He reportedly accuses Mr Shorten of disloyalty, discusses the “decapitation” of a colleague, and repeatedly uses graphic language to attack Labor figures.
Mr Byrne also reportedly wishes for the political death of Mr Andrews, and says of one ALP figure: “I want to see his head cut off”, before describing how he would desecrate the corpse.
“Somyurek has selectively released a hand-picked selection of my text messages to him sent over two years just hours after I made a public statement that I had contacted authorities and would assist with their corruption investigations into him. That speaks for itself,” Mr Byrne said.
Victorian Labor has been embroiled in a branch-stacking scandal that has spread to Canberra since revelations at the weekend by The Age and 60 Minutes, which claimed the ministerial scalps of Mr Somyurek and two allies.
It has also prompted an extraordinary intervention by the federal party into the Victorian branch.
The claims are also being investigated by Victoria Police and the state’s Independent Broad-based Anti-corruption Commission.
Part of the Nine network investigation involved secret recordings in Mr Byrne’s Melbourne electorate office in Cranbourne West, sparking fears that his office might have been bugged.
Under Victorian law, recording a conversation does not require the consent of the person being recorded, unlike some other states.
There is no suggestion Mr Byrne was involved in the alleged branch stacking.
But the issue of covert recording is considered more acute because Mr Byrne is deputy chair of federal parliament’s powerful intelligence committee.
“In respect of the misinformation circulating, I want to make clear that I take the matters raised recently seriously and have been in touch with authorities to offer my full assistance,” Mr Byrne said.
“I welcome investigations into corruption, which has no place in the party I love.
“Because I do not want to cross over or impede any investigations that may be occurring, I’m unable to comment further at this point in time.”
Mr Albanese said the backbencher’s language was “unacceptable and inappropriate”, but he would keep his committee position.
“I’ve counselled Mr Byrne about his language and the inappropriateness of those comments,” Mr Albanese said.
“I also discussed and sought an assurance from him that he had advice, which he has, that he has acted legally at all times.”
Attorney-General Christian Porter has described the installation of a recording device in an MP’s office as a serious concern.
Senior government minister Simon Birmingham said the leaked texts showed Labor had a toxic culture.
“It is very clear that we have real problems at the heart of the Labor Party and there needs to be more than the sort of fobbing off of answers that we’ve seen to date,” he told Sky News.
Labor is expected to face more pressure over the issue on Thursday, federal parliament’s last sitting day before the long winter break.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison said Labor was at war with itself.
“Anthony Albanese is leading a party in absolute chaos and disarray,” he told 2GB radio on Thursday.