Anthony Albanese stands by branch stacking MP Anthony Byrne amid Ibac revelations

Byrne, the Labor member for Holt, told the anti-corruption hearing he authorised taxpayer-funded office staff to complete political work

Anthony Albanese is standing by Anthony Byrne after the federal Labor MP admitted to breaking party rules and misusing taxpayer resources in the first day of hearings into branch stacking in the Victorian Labor Party.

Byrne, the federal MP for the south-east Melbourne seat of Holt, has been giving evidence to the Independent Broad-based Anti-corruption Commission, revealing he authorised taxpayer-funded office staff to complete political work, and used a “kitty” to pay for memberships in breach of party rules.

Byrne also admitted to employing two “Turkish” men as electorate office staff as part of a deal with factional powerbroker – and then-ally – Adem Somyurek, despite one of the men never showing up for work while drawing a taxpayer-funded salary.

Somyurek quit the Labor Party last year after a 60 Minutes investigation aired allegations he orchestrated a mass branch stacking operation. Recordings of him allegedly handing over cash were filmed in Byrne’s electoral office.

On Monday, Victorian Labor MP Luke Donnellan stepped down from cabinet after Byrne told the Ibac hearings that he and Donnellan were both involved in branch stacking, along with Somyurek.

Donnellan accepted he had breached party rules, but denied any other wrongdoing, saying “but let me be very clear: I never misused party funds or resources in any way. And this has absolutely nothing to do with my staff.”

When asked if Byrne should stand down from the party or be asked to resign, Albanese said he would let the Ibac hearings run their course.

Anthony Byrne
Labor member for Holt, Anthony Byrne. Photograph: Mick Tsikas/AAP

“It’s not appropriate to pre-empt their findings and those process, that’s a very clear thing when you have a legal matter taking place.”

He said the federal executive had taken action in the wake of the Nine investigation into branch stacking by ordering an immediate federal takeover, which included taking control of preselections.

“What we did … was intervened, strongly, immediately, decisively, intervened into the Victorian branch,” Albanese said. “We have intervened to make sure that no one can gain any advantage from any improper practices.”

In June 2020 in the wake of the revelations, Labor’s national executive appointed Steve Bracks and Jenny Macklin as administrators of the Victorian branch, suspending state committees and member voting rights until 2023.

Unions are challenging the federal takeover in the supreme court.

On Monday, the Victorian Labor senator Kimberley Kitching said there was a “strong rumour” within the party that Byrne would resign.

The shadow attorney general, Mark Dreyfus, said Byrne had acted as a whistleblower and had been thanked by counsel assisting Ibac Robert Redlich.

“It is Mr Byrne’s work that has led to this being uncovered,” Dreyfus – who ran an inquiry aimed at eliminating branch stacking in the Victorian division in 1998 – told ABC radio.

But like Albanese, Dreyfus said the Ibac inquiry should be completed before any consequences for Byrne’s actions were countenanced. “It’s very important that it be allowed to complete a full examination of all of the circumstances and then further judgments can be made.”

The Victorian premier, Daniel Andrews, said he had always followed the party’s rules, and had spent 18 months attempting to clean up the party, but that process “may well not be over”.

“I behave appropriately and it is my practice to follow party rules, and when necessary to take swift and direct action to rewrite those rules if they are not adequate,” Andrews said.

“Significant steps were taken. We have made changes, but we may need to go further,” he said.

The former Labor leader, Bill Shorten, said the revelations were “humiliating” and claimed the extent of the practice was surprising.

“It’s sad. I find it embarrassing as a proud Labor person, that these antics have been going on such an industrial scale, if the allegations are correct,” Shorten said.

“So, yeah, I think it turns people off politics. It doesn’t reflect the hard work of so many genuine ALP members and MPs. So, I guess it’s shameful, but at least Ibac’s looking at it. That’s the power of having an anti-corruption commission.”

Federal Victorian Liberals sought to pressure Albanese over the revelations.

The health minister, Greg Hunt, said the opposition leader needed to reveal when he knew about the rampant branch stacking, accusing him of taking the “Sergeant Schultz approach of ‘I know nothing’.”

Education Minister Alan Tudge said the revelations exposed a “systematic abuse of commonwealth funds”.

Sign up to receive the top stories from Guardian Australia every morning

“What will he do about Anthony Byrne? What will he do about the staff who have been involved … he [Albanese] needs to take strong action,” Tudge told Sky News. “It is rotten to the core in the Labor party here in Victoria.”

Albanese said he was not aware of the branch stacking revealed by Byrne until Monday’s hearings.

“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,” Albanese said.

The hearings continue in Melbourne on Tuesday.


Sarah Martin and AAP

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Victorian government loses second minister, Robin Scott, following branch stacking scandal – politics live
Adem Somyurek sacked and Robin Scott resigns from ministry, as state records 12 new Covid-19 cases. Follow the latest updates live

Naaman Zhou (now) and Amy Remeikis (earlier)

15, Jun, 2020 @9:39 AM

Article image
Patronage and branch stacking: five things we learned from Adem Somyurek’s Ibac evidence this week
Former Labor factional convener’s week before corruption inquiry revealed his own role and implicated Daniel Andrews

Nino Bucci

12, Nov, 2021 @7:00 PM

Article image
Federal ALP makes extraordinary intervention into Victorian branch-stacking scandal
Suspension of voting rights in state branch until 2023 expected to be among measures implemented as party grapples with fallout

Katharine Murphy Political editor

16, Jun, 2020 @10:43 AM

Article image
Labor branch-stacking scandal: Steve Bracks moves to calm tensions over party cleanup
Victorian ALP administrator says the legitimacy of the membership must be established and it should be possible to do ‘reasonably quickly’

Katharine Murphy, Daniel Hurst and Anne Davies

17, Jun, 2020 @10:01 AM

Article image
Victorian Labor may face national intervention over branch-stacking allegations
Intervention, which could happen as early as Tuesday, follows allegations the rightwing powerbroker Adem Somyurek took part in substantial branch stacking

Katharine Murphy and Daniel Hurst

15, Jun, 2020 @11:40 AM

Article image
Victoria, NSW and Queensland premiers appear on Q&A – as it happened
Daniels Andrews, Gladys Berejiklian and Annastacia Palaszczuk on Q+A as Victoria and Queensland plan to ease lockdown restrictions. This blog is now closed

Calla Wahlquist (now) and Naaman Zhou and Amy Remeikis (earlier)

11, May, 2020 @1:12 PM

Article image
Sally McManus calls on union boss John Setka to apologise for reported Rosie Batty comments
Domestic violence campaigners urge condemnation of Victorian CFMMEU secretary, who reportedly said Batty was harming men’s rights

Luke Henriques-Gomes

10, Jun, 2019 @7:38 AM

Article image
Ruby Princess protocol 'should have been scrapped' before ship docked, inquiry hears – as it happened
Northern Territory declared Covid-free, with borders to open in July; person who attended Melbourne Black Lives Matter protest among 18 new Victorian cases. This blog is now closed

Naaman Zhou and Amy Remeikis

18, Jun, 2020 @9:36 AM

Article image
Scott Morrison denies double speaking to extremists but says he feels for frustrated Australians
PM calls suggestions from Labor that he failed to denounce violence ‘completely false’

Paul Karp

19, Nov, 2021 @2:10 AM

Article image
Victorian premier defends China deal as PM pushes to override state pacts with foreign nations
Daniel Andrews calls on Scott Morrison to offer up list of export markets on which Victoria should now focus

Daniel Hurst and Paul Karp

27, Aug, 2020 @6:28 AM