Ombudsman and IBAC to probe Labor branch-stacking claims amid Adem Somyurek fallout

The state’s anti-corruption watchdog and the Victorian Ombudsman have joined forces to investigate allegations of the misuse of taxpayer funds in a large-scale branch stacking operation in the ALP.

The serious allegations of branch stacking overseen by sacked minister Adem Somyurek and linked to other ministers, who have resigned, have rocked the Andrews Government and the Labor party this week.

The Independent Broad-based Anti-corruption Commission (IBAC) this week launched Operation Fortescue to probe the claims aired by the Nine Network on Sunday, which were referred to them by Premier Daniel Andrews on Monday.

And following a referral from Parliament to the ombudsman, the two integrity agencies have announced they will work together to investigate the serious misconduct claims.

Mr Somyurek has strenuously denied the allegations.

IBAC commissioner Robert Redlich said in a statement the conduct of a thorough and efficient investigation was a shared priority given “significant public concern about the potential misuse of scarce public resources and the subversion of appropriate Parliamentary standards and processes”.

Ombudsman Deborah Glass said: “What Victorians need from us is an independent investigation. Together with IBAC we will examine these allegations including whether, and if so to what extent, public funds were misused for party-political purposes.”

The agencies do not know how long the investigation will take.

Deborah Glass stand with her arms folded, posing for the camera.
Victorian Ombudsman Deborah Glass will be part of the investigation.(Supplied: Ombudsman’s office)

The collaboration follows more leaked text messages between Mr Somyurek and federal MP Anthony Byrne, whose offices featured in secret recordings aired in the the Nine Network reports.

Mr Byrne has promised to work with investigators. In the past two days, Mr Somyurek has released a series of texts from Mr Byrne.

The former minister is also considering legal action against those who made the recordings of him.

“I look forward to the litigation process revealing documents and evidence of all those involved in what I believe has been a co-ordinated conspiracy to destroy my political career using unlawful means,” he told the Herald Sun newspaper.

Mr Somyurek has been contacted for comment.

In a statement, Mr Byrne said he welcomed investigations into corruption, which had “no place in the party I love”.

“Somyurek has selectively released a handpicked selection of my text messages to him sent over two years just hours after I made a public statement that I had contacted authorities and would assist with their corruption investigations into him. That speaks for itself,” he said.

Some of Mr Byrne’s texts contain colourful and crude language about Labor figures including female colleagues and there has been some agitation for federal leader Anthony Albanese to sack the Holt MP.

But the Labor MP has won the backing of Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton.

“I’m not going to criticise him for the language. It was a private text message. If you can say hand-on-heart, or Richard [Marles] can or I can that you haven’t used bad language in private, good luck to you but that’s not the reality for most adult Australians,” he told Nine’s Today Show.

Senior Victorian Minister Jacinta Allan said Mr Somyurek had rightly been sacked and expelled from the ALP.

“The actions of that individual [Somyurek] speak for themselves. He’s been expelled from the party for life and I think that speaks to itself,” she said.

Opposition Leader Michael O’Brien said the Premier must ensure MPs complied with the probe.

During a probe into the so-called “red shirt rorts” Labor MPs refused to be interviewed and the Government challenged the authority of the Ombudsman in the courts.

“There can be no refusing of interviews, no refusing access to documents, no playing political games in the Parliament, these are our chief integrity bodies they need to be fully cooperated with so Victorians can have confidence their Government isn’t corrupt,” he said.

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