IBAC Victoria hearings LIVE updates: Adem Somyurek’s final day in witness box

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Final day of Operation Watts IBAC inquiry

The public hearings running this week are part of an inquiry called Operation Watts into allegations of corrupt conduct involving Victorian public officers, including members of parliament.

Friday’s hearing will be the final one after five weeks of grillings.

The investigation is run jointly by the Victorian Independent Broad-based Anti-corruption Commission and the Victorian Ombudsman and its remit includes allegations of branch stacking in the Victorian Labor Party, as first revealed in an investigation by The Age and 60 Minutes last year.

Branch stacking is an organised method of accumulating internal power in a party by recruiting, and usually paying the fees for, new members.

But it’s much more pointed than just that. The real question is whether public officers, including Victorian members of parliament, are engaging in corrupt conduct by directing ministerial or electorate office staff to perform party‐political work when they should instead be doing ministerial or electorate work.

It will also look at whether public money given by the Victorian government as grants to community associations, has been redirected and misused to fund party‐political activities, or for any other improper purposes. It will ask if ministers or others involved in granting the funds have “dishonestly performed their functions” or “knowingly or recklessly breached public trust”.

The inquiry will look into whether any public officer, their families or their associates, received a personal benefit from these things, and looks at what systems and controls are in place to monitor these money flows.

The hearing is expected to go for at least four weeks. It’s overseen by IBAC Commissioner Robert Redlich, QC, and run by counsel assisting Chris Carr, SC.

IBAC commissioner gets tough, knocks back calls for Andrews to appear

IBAC has faced weeks of criticism from some media commentators and the opposition, who have attacked the focus on Somyurek’s faction and urged IBAC to look into other Labor groups and call Premier Daniel Andrews to address allegations he also branch stacked and was warned about the red shirts rort.

After lunch on Thursday, IBAC Commissioner Robert Redlich said the calls for other political actors to be called were misguided because IBAC was constrained by its underpinning legislation, which only allows it to compel witnesses “relevant to the misconduct of the individuals under investigation”.

Adem Somyurek and Premier Daniel Andrews.Credit:

He claimed Andrews government reforms in 2020 – which he said IBAC objected to – added to the “significant limitation” on IBAC to hold public hearings. “ICAC in NSW and CCC in QLD are not constrained in the same way … Those constraints, if they are to be addressed, need to take place through legislative reform,” he said.

The eminent former judge’s set-piece was defensive and could be read as a tacit acknowledgement that the inquiry’s scope either could, or should, have been wider. Or, it may have been a rebuke of unhelpful media barracking. It was definitely a plea to the government to give the agency more teeth.

Either way, it means Victorians may never learn if the practices that have been aired over the past few weeks are widespread across the entire Labor Party or confined to one faction.

Read the full piece here.

‘Temporary insanity’: Somyurek concedes he failed in his responsibilities as an MP

On Thursday, Adem Somyurek admitted he failed in his responsibilities as a parliamentarian and deleted text messages in which he discussed forging signatures, pleading “temporary insanity” during the fierce factional battle for control of Labor Party branches in Melbourne’s south-east.

On his third day giving evidence to the Independent Broad-based Anti-corruption Commission, Mr Somyurek spoke of a culture of nepotism in which family members of factional allies were rewarded with jobs, and political aspirants, including now Premier Daniel Andrews in the 1990s, were forced into what Commissioner Robert Redlich described as “unethical factional work”.

In a midnight conversation taped two days before The Age and 60 Minutes reported allegations of branch stacking in June last year, Mr Somyurek and his close ally Marlene Kairouz discussed what the journalists could be investigating based on questions they had been asked.

“[Branch stacking] is not against the law. It’s not corruption,” Ms Kairouz is heard telling Mr Somyurek on the tape played in IBAC on Thursday.

In relation to the forging of signatures, Mr Kairouz said: “You can change your signature every week.”

Mr Somyurek, who left the Labor Party after being accused last year of a widespread branch stacking operation, admitted to Commissioner Redlich he should have just enjoyed being a minister and not have become involved in the factional battle.

“I really shouldn’t have done any of this, I lost my ministry because of it. My strength is also my weakness, Commissioner, I am obsessive. If I believe in a cause, I go for it, but the downside is you get shot in the head.”

Read the full wrap of Thursday’s hearing here.

Final day of Operation Watts IBAC inquiry

The public hearings running this week are part of an inquiry called Operation Watts into allegations of corrupt conduct involving Victorian public officers, including members of parliament.

Friday’s hearing will be the final one after five weeks of grillings.

The investigation is run jointly by the Victorian Independent Broad-based Anti-corruption Commission and the Victorian Ombudsman and its remit includes allegations of branch stacking in the Victorian Labor Party, as first revealed in an investigation by The Age and 60 Minutes last year.

Branch stacking is an organised method of accumulating internal power in a party by recruiting, and usually paying the fees for, new members.

But it’s much more pointed than just that. The real question is whether public officers, including Victorian members of parliament, are engaging in corrupt conduct by directing ministerial or electorate office staff to perform party‐political work when they should instead be doing ministerial or electorate work.

It will also look at whether public money given by the Victorian government as grants to community associations, has been redirected and misused to fund party‐political activities, or for any other improper purposes. It will ask if ministers or others involved in granting the funds have “dishonestly performed their functions” or “knowingly or recklessly breached public trust”.

The inquiry will look into whether any public officer, their families or their associates, received a personal benefit from these things, and looks at what systems and controls are in place to monitor these money flows.

The hearing is expected to go for at least four weeks. It’s overseen by IBAC Commissioner Robert Redlich, QC, and run by counsel assisting Chris Carr, SC.

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