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Albanese asks finance department whether Byrne breached official rules over staff

·3-min read

Anthony Albanese has referred Labor MP Anthony Byrne to the finance department to investigate his employment of taxpayer-funded staff who didn’t turn up to his office.

Albanese said he had first spoken to Byrne about whether he would refer himself to the department over the staff, who were taken on at the behest of a factional boss.

But Byrne said he had legal advice it was not appropriate, because of the undertakings he had give the Victorian Independent Broad-based Anti-Corruption Commission.

“Therefore I referred Mr Byrne,” Albanese said.

At IBAC last week the Labor MP, who has held the Victorian federal seat of Holt since 1999, admitted to engaging in branch stacking and to agreeing to engage two staffers at the request of then factional powerbroker Adem Somyurek. The men didn’t even appear in the office.

Asked whether the two were doing factional work when on his staff Byrne said, “I presume so”, although he had no direct knowledge. “I just didn’t know what they were doing.”

When it was put to him that “between you and Mr Somyurek you were in effect consuming taxpayer funds inappropriately”, Byrne replied “yes”.

He also gave evidence about regular staff in his office doing factional work.

Byrne was a long time ally of Somyurek, but after they fell out he became a whistle blower.

The resulting exposure of the branch-stacking scandal has led to the fall of four Victorian government ministers including Somyurek, who is out of the party and sits on the crossbench.

IBAC is holding public hearings “into allegations of serious corrupt conduct involving Victorian public officers”, including MPs.

Read more: Grattan on Friday: Anthony Albanese needed to walk the talk on Labor integrity issue

These are part of a coordinated investigation between IBAC and the Victorian Ombudsman, looking at matters including the allegations of branch stacking aired in the media last year, which included footage shot secretly in Byrne’s office.

Branch stacking is against ALP rules but not illegal. But the misuse of staff employed on taxpayer money can involve breaches of the law.

Last year federal minister Michael Sukkar and former minister Kevin Andrews were investigated by the finance department after allegations of the misuse of electorate officers to recruit Liberal party members to boost factional numbers.

They denied the allegations and were both cleared. The finance department said: “Further investigation of the matters within the scope of the review is not warranted as there is not a sufficient basis to form a view that there was serious misuses of Commonwealth resources”.

Albanese dodged questioning about whether Byrne will be Labor’s candidate at the election, but it seems increasingly unlikely he will be.

Read more: IBAC vs ICAC: what are these anti-corruption commissions and how do they compare?

“We’ll deal with those matters at the appropriate time,” Albanese said. “IBAC at the moment is still having hearings.”

Byrne has resigned his membership of the parliamentary intelligence and security committee and the privileges committee.

Albanese has been under increasing pressure to take a firm stand against him, especially given how strongly he spoke out against Sukkar.

This article is republished from The Conversation is the world's leading publisher of research-based news and analysis. A unique collaboration between academics and journalists. It was written by: Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra.

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Michelle Grattan does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.

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