Rorting inquiry begins

Counsel Assisting IBAC, Chris Carr, said the inquiry was exploring alleged "serious corrupt conduct" by some Victorian MPs.

The joint IBAC-State Ombudsman investigation Operation Watts looking into alleged rorting of public funds by some Victorian MPs got underway this week.

Counsel assisting IBAC, Chris Carr, in his opening statement, said it would explore “serious corrupt conduct by Victorian public officers“.

This included MPs directing their taxpayer-funded staff to perform party-political work during work hours.

It also investigates state funding to community associations being misused for party-political activity.

“When corruption occurs in the public sector it hurts all of us.

“We expect our public officials to behave responsibly and with integrity, and for public resources to be used for the intended purpose to benefit the Victorian community.”

Mr Carr said the Moderate Labor faction of the state ALP would be a “case study”.

Faction members include Dandenong-based state MP and former Minister Adem Somyurek, federal MP Anthony Byrne and Narre Warren state MP Luke Donnellan who resigned as a Minister on day one of the hearings.

Those three were involved in branch-stacking against party rules as part of the informal group South East Alliance, Mr Byrne has told the inquiry.

They allegedly paid for other people’s party memberships and renewals.

Mr Carr described branch-stacking as “organising people to join a political party, which they have little genuine interest in joining”.

“Of course, few reluctant members would part with their money to join, so an integral aspect of branch-stacking is the payment of membership fees by politicians, aspiring politicians, their associates, or those seeking to obtain influence.”

Mr Byrne confirmed the use of public-paid electorate officers and ministerial staff being used for factional activities during work time, such as filling in blank membership ballots.

Some staff were employed at Mr Byrne’s office at the request of Mr Somyurek and never showed up for work for months, Mr Byrne alleged.

Mr Byrne portrayed himself as someone who tried to “de-escalate“ branch-stacking in the South East. Meanwhile, Mr Somyurek was “ramping up“ branch-stacking in recent years, Mr Byrne told the inquiry.

“As Adem was getting more and more power, it was almost becoming an existential threat for the Labor Party.”

Mr Somyurek, through his lawyer, asserted in cross-examination that it was Mr Byrne that “ran the show“.

The inquiry will also look at community organisations with “very close ties” to Moderate Labor received government grants.

One of the issues was whether the grants were a “reward for recruiting members to the ALP”.

The hearing is expected to continue for five weeks.

Read more on pages 3, 8, 9 and 11.