Anthony Albanese fired Labor MP Anthony Byrne to the Finance Department to investigate his employment of taxpayer-funded staff who did not show up to his office.
Albanese said he first asked Byrne if he would refer to the department rather than the staff, who had been hired at the request of a faction leader.
But Byrne said he got legal advice, which was inappropriate, because of commitments he made to the Victorian Independent Broad-based Anti-Corruption Commission.
“Therefore, I referred Mr. Byrne,” Albanese said.
At the IBAC last week, the Labor MP, who has held the Victorian federal seat in Holt since 1999, admitted to engaging in branch stacking and agreeing to hire two staff at the broker’s request power of the time, Adem Somyurek. The men did not even appear in the office.
When asked if the two did faction work while on his team, Byrne replied, “I presume so,” although he has no direct knowledge of it. “I just didn’t know what they were doing. “
When told that “between you and Mr. Somyurek, you were in fact consuming taxpayer funds inappropriately”, Byrne replied “yes”.
He also testified that the regular staff in his office did shift work.
Byrne was a longtime ally of Somyurek, but after they fell out he became a whistleblower.
The resulting revelation of the branch stacking scandal led to the downfall of four Victorian government ministers, including Somyurek, who is out of the party and sits on the bench of the cross.
The IBAC is holding public hearings “into allegations of serious corrupt conduct involving Victorian public officials,” including MPs.
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These are part of a coordinated investigation between the IBAC and the Victoria Ombudsman, examining issues such as the branch stacking allegations circulated in the media last year, which included footage shot secretly in the Byrne’s office.
Stacking branches is against ALP rules but is not illegal. But the misuse of employed personnel with taxpayer money can lead to legal violations.
Last year, Federal Minister Michael Sukkar and former Minister Kevin Andrews were investigated by the Department of Finance over allegations of the abuse of election officials to recruit Liberal Party members to ‘increase the number of factions.
They denied the allegations and were both cleared. The Finance Ministry said: “Further investigation into the issues falling within the scope of the review is not warranted as there is not sufficient basis to believe that there has been serious abuse of the Commonwealth Resources “.
Albanese has dodged the question of whether Byrne will be the Labor candidate in the election, but it seems increasingly unlikely that he will be.
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“We will address these issues at the appropriate time,” Albanese said. “At the moment, the IBAC is still holding hearings. “
Byrne resigned from his membership on the Parliamentary Intelligence and Security Committee and the Privileges Committee.
Albanese is under increasing pressure to take a strong stand against him, especially since he has spoken out against Sukkar.