News National Dennis Atkins: A lowlife bully’s rorts shouldn’t eclipse the jobless crisis

Dennis Atkins: A lowlife bully’s rorts shouldn’t eclipse the jobless crisis

An image of Scott Morrison and Anthony Albanese, both looking grim.
Scott Morrison has returned fire at Anthony Albanese Photo: AAP/Getty
Twitter Facebook Reddit Pinterest Email

This week more than 280,000 Australians officially joined the unemployment line – yet the political class was more obsessed with one Victorian MP losing his job.

That a genuine, industrial-scale economic crisis is rolling through the ranks of workers – particularly women and the young – might sound more serious than inside baseball skullduggery.

You wouldn’t know it listening to much of the media and political chorus in Melbourne and Canberra.

For starters, we shouldn’t minimise the importance of the corruption of Labor Party rules and practices by sacked minister Adem Somyurek.

He has written himself into the record books as a gold medal rorter and a lowlife bully with few obvious scruples.

As the face of the ugly underbelly of Victorian Labor, Somyurek has blown open a joke that has been as every bit pernicious as seen in corruption in Queensland and New South Wales over decades.

While Somyurek and his operatives were laughing at the way they constructed phoney membership rolls, the legitimate rank and file branch members sat stunned as ownership of their party was suspended through the most comprehensive federal political intervention in half a century.

Adem Somyurek v John Eren
Mr Somyurek has rejected the allegations. Picture: AAP

According to senior Labor figures involved in the intervention, the move by the party’s federal executive had to be comprehensive because no one was sure how bad the insidious influence of Somyurek had been.

“People weren’t sure where Somyurek’s boasting finished and reality began,” said a senior insider.

“Also, we had to make sure there were no escape hatches left open or any avenues were available to head off any efforts to return democracy to the Victorian branch.”

A group of powerful unions linked to Somyurek – led by John Setka’s construction division of the CFMMEU – has given notice of legal moves to block the intervention.

Setka has used the courts to fight Labor and union action he doesn’t like, including pushing back against Anthony Albanese’s move to have his ALP membership revoked last year.

Setka backed down after the standoff and was expelled from the ALP.

“A successful intervention will clean up the mess left from Somyurek’s actions, restore integrity to the party’s membership lists and hopefully sideline Setka who is relentless in pursuing his own ambitions,” said a senior party operative.

The ramifications from the Somyurek affair have presented a greater risk for the ALP leadership in Canberra than in Spring Street, Melbourne.

Victorian Premier Dan Andrews demonstrated why he’s held in high esteem for his ability and agility – in politics and policy – by staring down Somyurek and his acolytes in the state government, demanding the intervention that ensued, and then getting back to work.

Albanese was not so sure-footed, despite having much less skin in the Victorian shenanigans.

He was poorly briefed about the involvement of his veteran backbencher Anthony Byrne in Somyurek’s rise and fall, and tripped when pressed on what he knew, when he knew it, and what he was doing about it.

Albanese is sweating on a squeaky tight by-election in the southeastern New South Wales seat of Eden Monaro in just a fortnight – where Labor is trying to stop the Morrison Government from breaking a century-old jinx by winning a by-election for an Opposition held seat.

While some polling this week showed the contest is tilting slightly towards a Labor-hold, it is a very marginal seat.

Albanese will be hoping voters in Eden-Monaro will focus more on the myriad federal government failures during and after the summer bushfires that hit this part of Australia as hard as anywhere.

Also, Albanese has ramped up the politics in responding to the government’s handling of the economic crisis, especially the early withdrawal of aspects of child care support and the current plan to end additional unemployment benefits and abruptly curtail the expensive JobKeeper support measures by the end of September.

Meanwhile, unemployment numbers published on Thursday were shocking, and worse than most expected.

That 7.1 per cent figure, representing 927,000 Australians, stands alongside another 626,000 people who have dropped out of the workforce, which gives an effective jobless rate of almost 11.5 per cent.

This is the highest unemployment rate since figures were first recorded 42 years ago.

No wonder that’s where Albanese wants voters to be looking – not at the covert activities of a wannabe warlord whose name few had ever heard.