It is always useful to see how far politics has sunk in Australia when you look at the response from one major party when a member of the other major party is caught with their fingers in the till, and then seeing how the first reacts when a member (or members) of their own party is caught doing the same thing. The fact that members of either major party get caught undertaking such nefarious activities is another indication of something I wrote about some three and a half years ago; that all political parties are corrupt1. It is also interesting to see what the media make of both of these revelations, as that gives a good indication of how corrupt is much of the media in Australia, but that is for another time. Comparing responses between parties also gives one an indication of the disdain with which they hold the electorate.
Victorian state minister Adem Somyurek was a ‘power broker’ in the Victorian branch of the Labor Party and was accused of branch stacking in June 2020. Branch stacking is where bogus members have their membership of the party paid by someone else, or have their membership registered in an electorate in which they do not live. This is used to get the required outcomes in votes within that electorate. It is used by factions of parties to get their favoured members preselected to run for seats in state or federal parliament. Somyurek was brought down by a sting in which he was recorded on video in the office of Labor federal backbencher Anthony Byrne, who is more important than this sounds because he’s deputy chair of the parliamentary committee on intelligence and security. How the “hit” was organised remains unclear, but one suspects that it was organised with the knowledge of at least some members of the Labor Party. After these revelations, Somyurek was not just disgraced but under investigation by the Victorian anti-corruption body1.
Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews and federal Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese were quick to react, and over two days state ministerial heads had rolled and the Victorian branch had been taken over by the Labor national executive in the guise of former premier Steve Bracks and former federal minister Jenny Macklin, to sort out the mess1.
So, what did the federal government say? In parliament, after the Somyurek affair had blown up, Leader of the Opposition, Anthony Albanese asked a question of Prime Minister Scott Morrison about infrastructure spending. Morrison answered the question with some figures on infrastructure spending, then went into a tirade about the western Sydney airport, and then shouted about the Somyurek affair: “he’s blaming everybody for his problems today”3. That is what Morrison usually does, blame everyone else.
Treasurer Josh Frydenberg poked fun at the scandal during Question Time, when the intelligence committee’s Liberal chairman, Andrew Hastie, gave him a free hit. “He, unlike other members of that committee, has informed me that he doesn’t have any secret hidden cameras in his office”. Morrison also put the boot in when fielding a crossbench question about plans for a national integrity commission, saying “I would be very surprised if those opposite in the Labor Party would be asking questions about integrity today”4.
Liberal MP for Goldstein, Tim Wilson tweeted: “At the peak of the Somyurek patronage pyramid sits [Albo] & [Daniel Andrews], but it’s ‘rising stars’ like [Tim Watts] who are the critical bricks holding it up in the hope that one day they ascend to the top…”5
On 2GB, the radio outlet favoured by RWNJs, Morrison declared, when being interviewed by Ben Fordham, that the Labor Party “are absolutely at war” as they cope with the Somyurek affair, and continued “Anthony Albanese has been totally burned by this scandal …We’re fighting for jobs, they’re fighting each other”6.
The Victorian Leader of the Opposition, Michael O’Brien, who has not covered himself in much other than ordure during this second wave of Covid-19 in Victoria, stated that the Somyurek affair “shows the Andrews Labor Government is corrupt to the core; working to keep themselves in power rather than working for Victorians. Political corruption under Daniel Andrews must end. Tonight’s revelations on corruption within the Andrews Labor Government shows a shocking failure of judgement by Daniel Andrews”. He ‘demanded’ that Somyurek (and others) be sacked7, which they were. In fact, Somyurek was banned from the Labor Party for life8.
These above are a selection of the responses from members of the Liberal Party. Now, these are looking rather silly now that it has been shown that Kevin Andrews, Michael Sukkar and Marcus Bastiaan were part of a branch stacking system in the Victorian Liberal Party. This reportedly included using taxpayer funds to employ people to undertake party political activities, which is illegal9.
So what was the response from the Liberal luminaries above? Frydenberg said “What I saw last night was language and conduct that was of real concern …The Liberal Party will conduct its own internal process on that.” Frydenberg has also stated that he fully supports Sukkar10.
Michael O’Brien said “I’ve made very clear that we want to make sure that the Liberal Party is a party which actually lives its values. What we saw last night was as far away from Liberal Party values as I could imagine.” When asked if Sukkar and Andrews should be stood down while being investigated, he was noncommittal, saying that it was “entirely a matter for the prime minister”11.
When queried about the branch stacking, Morrison simply said that it was solely a matter for the Victorian branch of the Liberal Party11.
Tim Wilson apparently had nothing to say, simply retweeting the press statement by state director of the Liberal Party Sam McQuestin. In this, it was stated that the Administrative Committee will appoint forensic accountants to review the party’s membership records, practices and rule. This lack of comment from Wilson may be because he was one of the targets the branch stacking was trying to unseat12.
Sukkar, Andrews, and Bastiaan are conservative Christians, and it is they and their ilk who have effectively taken over the Victorian Liberal Party13. It is ironic that it is those who profess to be followers of the teachings of Christ, by their actions repudiate everything for which he supposedly stood.
There is a Scott Morrison parody account on Twitter, and it posted the following in response to the branch stacking story: “Bit going on! Media team have advised I lay low for a few days, then post another photo cooking a curry”14. Some days you need a laugh.