Adem Somyurek sacked as Victorian Labor minister after explosive allegations of branch stacking

A Victorian government minister has been sacked after he was hit with accusations of branch stacking and was caught making sexist and homophobic remarks about fellow MPs and party members.

An investigation by the Age and 60 Minutes alleged on Sunday night that the upper house MP Adem Somyurek handed over thousands of dollars in cash and used parliamentary employees to create fake branch members and amass political influence within the Labor party.

In the same news report, he was caught on tape describing a fellow Victorian state Labor MP, Gabrielle Williams, as a “stupid, stupid moll” and labelling some Young Labor members as “little passive-aggressive fucking gay kids”.

Footage shot on 13 April shows Somyurek withdrawing $2,000 in cash from an ATM before handing it and dozens of party membership forms to an adviser working for a fellow Labor minister. The aide then delivers the forms and cash to the ALP head office.

The adviser reportedly carried out a similar cash drop-off earlier in the year.

“Well, if he gets caught on the street, he’d better not say he’s doing fucking this stuff,” Somyurek is recorded saying after the 13 April drop.

At a press conference on Monday, the Victorian premier, Daniel Andrews, said he had sacked Somyurek, had asked Labor’s national executive to expel him from the party, and referred the allegations to Victoria police and Victoria’s anti-corruption watchdog, Ibac.

Andrews said Somyurek’s “conduct and comments” were “completely deplorable, they are shameful and it is on that basis that there is no place in my government for him”.

He said the first time he had become aware of aware of the allegations against Somyurek was when he watched the 60 Minutes program.

In a statement on Monday morning claiming he had quit, Somyurek said he rejected claims of branch stacking and would be “providing a rigorous defence during any party process”.

But he apologised for his language towards Williams and said he was “deeply sorry” for the way he talked about the LGBTI community. “These comments have rightly cost me my job,” he said.

A statement from Labor’s national president, Wayne Swan, indicated that Somyurek had resigned from the party on Monday before the party executive could expel him.

Breaking: Adem Somyurek has quit as a minister in the Andrews Government.

He says he is seeking a police investigation into the secret surveillance of his conversations with a “long term friend and factional ally”. @theheraldsun #springst #auspol pic.twitter.com/SAqvRHq2m9

— Tom Minear (@tminear) June 14, 2020

Somyurek – who was Victoria’s minister for local government and small business – was also recorded appearing to order people to forge signatures and create false statements in which Labor branch members claim to have paid for their own memberships.

He also appeared to talk about directing taxpayer-funded parliamentary employees, meant to be working for other MPs, to conduct party political operations.

Branch stacking involves recruiting or signing up members for a local branch of a political party for the purpose of influencing the outcome of internal preselections of candidates for federal and state parliament.

In one recording, Somyurek boasts of controlling two-thirds of the Labor party in Victoria. “I’ll be just running the joint,” he says. “It’s who I say is going to be the fucking premier.”

It is against Labor rules to pay for other people’s memberships. Party members are required to sign a form declaring they have paid their own fees.

In the recordings, Somyurek also takes aim at his colleagues, including Marlene Kairouz, whom he describes as holding a “meaningless” portfolio “made up just to make it look like we’re interested in the suburbs”.

He labels Williams, the minister for women and the prevention of family violence, a “stupid bitch” whom he will “fucking force … out of the ministry”.

Somyurek also describes young staffers helping him as “patronising and annoying”, and “real little fucking slimy little fuckers, little passive-aggressive fucking gay kids”.

Andrews said two other government ministers who were implicated in the allegations of branch stacking – Kairouz and Robin Scott – had assured him there were not involved in any wrongdoing.

“They have provided me with that assurance and I would of course make the point that these matters are now the subject of a referral, an appropriate referral, to both Victoria police and the Independent Broad-based Anti-corruption Commission,” he said.

He labelled Somyurek’s remarks about Williams “simply unacceptable, wicked comments” and said they could not be tolerated.

Williams said on Monday the “words spoken by one man” would not derail the government’s work to “build a gender equal Victoria”.

Victoria’s opposition leader, Michael O’Brien, said Scott and Kairouz should also be immediately stood down, accusing the premier of running a “protection racket” for the two ministers.

The Liberal leader said Andrews’ decision to return Somyurek to cabinet after he had quit in 2015 over bullying allegations showed a “shocking failure of judgement”.

“In backing Adem Somyurek, Daniel Andrews put his own political interests ahead of the interests of Victorians. Andrews bears full responsibility for the actions of his ministers,” he said.

In his statement on Monday, Somyurek said he would also seek a police investigation into the release of the tapes, which he said were private conversations with a “friend and factional ally of mine”.

“It is clear that I was taped and surveilled in a federal electorate office without my knowledge and that this material was published without my knowledge of its existence or my consent,” he said.

Speaking on ABC Radio on Monday, the reporter Nick McKenzie stressed that the recordings had been lawfully obtained by the Age and 60 Minutes.

In a statement on Monday, Ibac said it had received the referral from the Victorian attorney general, Jill Hennessy, “concerning the conduct of public officers”.

“This referral is currently under consideration,” it said.

The Victorian state government has been contacted for comment.

with AAP

Contributor

Luke Henriques-Gomes

The GuardianTramp

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