By Cam Lucadou-Wells
A former staffer at a Labor MP’s ministerial and electorate offices says about 80 per cent of her work time was consumed with party-factional politics, an IBAC hearing was told.
A self-described ‘non-politicised’ public servant Ellen Schreiber says she was initially reluctant to join then-Local Government and Small Business Minister Adem Somyurek’s ministerial office in early 2019.
This was due to Mr Somyurek’s “reputation“, she told the Operation Watts inquiry on 12 October.
At the time, she couldn’t tell the difference between Liberal and Labor.
But soon she was signed up as a Labor member, embroiled with the Moderate Right faction.
She was setting up meetings with ALP faction “stakeholders” such as union officials and federal MPs, as well as sitting on ALP membership and admin committees.
“When the branch stacking, I guess, had ramped up, the workload, it was almost like 80 per cent of my day was going through memberships at times, but that was not every day.
“It was just at times that’s all we’d be doing.”
Ms Schreiber told of Mr Somyurek “screaming down the phone” at her after she deferred memberships at an ALP membership committee meeting.
“I had a friend who’s not political at all in the car next to me. I got off the phone and she said, ’How does your boss speak to you like that? How is that acceptable?’”
During her secondment as Mr Somyurek’s executive assistant, she was assigned to “fix” his non-communicative electorate office in Dandenong.
“I think out of my pure frustration.
“I would send out emails, I wouldn’t get anything back.”
The electorate office was “for some reason” moved into the CBD in mid 2019.
When she raised the office’s culture with Mr Somyurek it was “swept under the carpet”.
“I was told ‘I’m an Upper House member, that’s not how it works, I don’t need to do events’.”
She said Mr Somyurek did the “bare minimum” as Small Business Minister.
Ms Schreiber continued “Labor party activities” for Mr Somyurek after she was hired at federal MP and factional ally Anthony Byrne’s office for a month.
She was then offered a role by Mr Somyurek at the Construction Forestry Maritime Mining And Energy Union (CFMEU) to sign up union members to the ALP, she said.
Her role was couched as CMFEU state secretary John Setka’s “right-hand woman” because “John was going through bad media and it was ideal to have a young female in that position”.
Mr Somyurek reacted with “venom” when she refused it.
“He was mad like a cut snake.
“He spat venom at me and, ’You’re a f***ing idiot. Why are you working for a backbencher? Anthony (Byrne) does nothing out there. He’s lazy. You’re not going to go anywhere with your career.’
“I got off the phone, called my direct manager hysterically crying because I had just been effectively abused, verbally abused over the phone.”
After turning down the role she was “put in the freezer”.
“Adem didn’t want to speak to me. I wasn’t involved with anything.“
She soon after left the ALP, she told the inquiry.