Suspect fundraisers attended by Andrews, Marles, Shorten

Labor leaders including Premier Daniel Andrews and federal MPs Richard Marles and Bill Shorten attended fundraisers that prompted the firefighters’ union boss to hold concerns that the cash raised was used for branch stacking.

Union chief Peter Marshall wrote to the party in 2018 questioning whether funds raised were being used for their intended purpose after years of dinners at which high-profile Labor identities drew crowds of party members as former minister Adem Somyurek grew his powerbase. No action was taken on his complaint.

Premier Daniel Andrews and firefighters’ union boss Peter Marshall.Credit:

Party fundraisers are not uncommon and there is no suggestion any MPs knew that money purportedly raised to fund campaigns may have been used to pay for memberships and, in turn, gain control over pre-selections and other internal party processes. It demonstrates MPs could unwittingly be caught up in events that raised money in contravention of Labor rules.

Self-confessed branch stacker-turned-whistleblower Anthony Byrne, the federal member for Holt, last week told Independent Broad-based Anti-corruption Commission hearings the faction led by Mr Somyurek hosted fundraisers to gather cash to pay for other people’s memberships.

Mr Byrne did not specify if the events attended by Mr Andrews or other MPs were used to fund party recruitment. However, he said it was common knowledge among attendees that dinners held under the South-East Labor banner were used for this purpose.

Then opposition leader, Mr Andrews spoke at a South-East Labor event in August 2014 about a month before he was elected premier. The dinner was held at the Chelsea RSL. Its advertised purpose was to raise money for campaigns in marginal seats of Frankston, Carrum and Mordialloc.

Federal Labor MP Anthony Byrne appearing at the IBAC hearing.

The flyer for Mr Andrews’ event listed a contact number for Nick McLennan, an operative close to Mr Somyurek and his Moderate Labor faction. It listed an email for the South-East Labor group run by the Moderate grouping. It is not suggested that Mr Andrews knew that the funds could be used for branch-stacking, or that they in fact were on this occasion.

The Premier has never been in the same faction as Mr Somyurek, but as party leader was expected to attend many fundraisers to benefit marginal seat candidates, irrespective of their factional allegiance.

Mr Marles, now Labor’s deputy leader federally, attended an event hosted by the South-East Labor group in 2016, while former Labor leader Bill Shorten spoke at an event in 2010. Labor frontbenchers and NSW Right faction members Chris Bowen and Tony Burke, as well as former NSW senator Sam Dastyari, were keynote speakers at events in 2013 and 2014.

Mr Byrne said last week that “most of the people that would have attended those functions had a pretty good idea that some of the money that was being raised would go to memberships”.

Counsel assisting the inquiry Chris Carr SC asked Mr Byrne if money from fundraisers went into a “kitty” in the MP’s office which was used to fund membership renewals. Mr Byrne replied that this was “completely accurate”.

Unlike most party fundraisers, South-East Labor event flyers did not include bank account details, so people were encouraged to pay by cash at the door, according to two Right faction sources, who spoke anonymously to detail the improper practise.

Mr Marshall, a powerful union secretary who sits in the Socialist Left faction that opposed Mr Somyurek, said in his complaint that an investigation should happen if it was determined that donation rules were not complied with.

“I can only assume the guest speakers have not been compromised by their attendance,” Mr Marshall wrote in his letter, which referenced the event attended by Mr Andrews.

IBAC Commissioner Robert Redlich speaks during the Operation Watts public hearing in Melbourne.Credit:AAP

Mr Somyurek, a former factional boss accused of leading a wide-scale branch-stacking operation who bitterly fell out with My Byrne, told The Age he wanted to know “exactly how much was raised, how much went into membership and how much went into Byrne’s pocket”.

The complaint from Mr Marshall – who is at the centre of a separate corruption investigation involving his dealings with the Premier’s office over a pay deal – was not acted upon by the party’s chief decision-making committee, which was controlled at the time by a factional coalition loyal to Mr Somyurek.

The party’s head office attempted to address the complaint in 2018 at five meetings of the administrative committee and one of its sub-committee between July and October. But the Moderate Labor grouping resisted attempts to appoint an auditor to determine whether the fundraised cash was ever sent to the Labor Party’s official bank accounts.

A motion moved by an opposing faction, which was unsuccessful, stated: “The party must respond to serious allegations by … engaging the ALP solicitors to advise … on the responsibilities … where fundraisers are held and money has not been received by the ALP, and the potential legal consequences.”

The IBAC hearings are part of an inquiry called Operation Watts, which is examining allegations of corrupt conduct involving Victorian public officers, including members of parliament.

It has also explored the practise of branch-stacking, which is against Labor Party rules but not illegal. The commission is exploring whether public funds, including grants were used for factional purposes.

A spokesperson for the Premier said the government would not comment on IBAC proceedings, and spokeswomen for Mr Marles and Mr Shorten said they had no knowledge of the destiny of funds raised at events they spoke at.

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