A former Victorian government minister admitted to having “lost all perspective” in a fierce factional battle and should be “doomed” for it, but said he had not authorized widespread embezzlement of public funds.
Adem Somyurek told a public hearing with the Independent Broad-based Anti-Corruption Commission that he could not excuse his behavior early last year, when he said he was embroiled in a frenetic period of stacking of branches in response to the behavior of a rival faction, the socialist left.
The commission is investigating allegations that public resources were misused as part of a large branch stacking operation within the moderate labor faction of the Victorian ALP branch. Stacking branches is not illegal, but it is a violation of party rules.
In a recording of a March 2020 conversation played during Somyurek’s testimony on Tuesday, the Upper House MP is told by an unidentified Labor staff member working on behalf of the faction that she suspects signatures on some membership forms have been tampered with.
“Fuck,” Somyurek replies, before asking “do people check that much”.
Commission attorney Chris Carr SC asked if this indicated that Somyurek had “no qualms” about the counterfeits, to which Somyurek agreed, saying the only other possibility was that he believed the member of Labor staff were pedantic.
He said that ultimately he had accepted that his behavior during this period was blinded by a factional battle with the socialist left.
“I had lost all perspective, and you can condemn me on the strongest terms possible,” he said.
Somyurek also agreed that during the same discussion he agreed to pay “Somalis” dues, in violation of party rules. There was a discussion in the same conversation about who would pay the fees for members of Indian descent.
“I’m not trying to say it was something pure or proper, I’m not trying to justify it,” Somyurek said.
When Carr asked if the limbs were “made to be stacked in a branch,” Somyurek replied, “that’s right.” He then said “it was in response to hostile action by the SL [Socialist Left], but that’s no excuse.
Somyurek was again invited on several occasions by Carr and Ibac Commissioner Robert Redlich QC to answer questions directly.
“The way this process works is that I ask the questions and you answer the questions, rather than asking different questions,” Carr said at one point.
Redlich later said he had had great difficulty following Somyurek’s testimony over the previous hour because his answers were so “long, convoluted, or so … that I have no idea. of what you actually say in response. At the question”.
Somyurek partially justified his answers by saying that he couldn’t answer Carr’s questions with a “binary” yes or no, as that didn’t allow him to explain the “gray area”.
He repeatedly mentioned the difference between publicly funded staff doing faction work part of their working hours, as opposed to full time political work, as was discovered during the Shirts scandal. red.
Carr described this as Somyurek’s “proportionality analysis” to determine what was corrupt, saying his position was that “as long as it’s only days here or there, there is no corruption involved. “.
Carr asked Somyurek if it was reasonable that several taxpayer-funded employees used a four-hour meeting during their shifts to discuss faction activities.
Somyurek said he was amazed the meeting lasted so long, but said any conclusion about how state-funded staff was being used had to be based on a total of his time, rather than his work. of a given day. It was possible that a state-funded electorate or a member of the staff of a ministerial cabinet could perform faction work that “will be compensated by many months of no activity at all,” he said. he declares.
“What we have here are members of the staff of the deputies, who …
He rejected evidence provided by others to the committee that he had control over who was employed in other MPs’ offices, and repeatedly stressed that there just wasn’t enough work. of faction to accomplish to justify the hiring of people on the public market. salaries funded solely for this purpose.
But Somyurek agreed with Redlich that he never told his staff “you must not do shift work during working hours”, in part because he thought it was allowed by law. governing the use of parliamentary staff and that was common in politics.
Somyurek’s testimony continues.