‘Red shirts’ re-opened

Adem Somyurek appearing at the IBAC Operation Watts inquiry into ALP branch-stacking.

By Cam Lucadou-Wells

South Eastern Metropolitan MP and ex-ALP powerbroker Adem Somyurek has won a narrow vote in State Parliament for a revived investigation of the ‘red shirts’ rort.

The vote was won after his former factional ally and Labor back-bencher Kaushaliya Vaghela sensationally crossed the floor in the Legislative Council on 9 February.

The red shirts affair refers to Labor’s misuse of $388,000 of taxpayer funds on electorate office staff campaigning in the 2014 state election.

The motion referred the allegations again to the Victorian Ombudsman Deborah Glass, in the hope of her referring them to IBAC’s Operation Watts inquiry.

It also referred allegations of the role of Premier Daniel Andrews in ‘red shirts’, branch-stacking of all ALP factions, the Premier’s social media unit and the stacking of “ALP activists” in the public service.

Mr Somyurek told Parliament that Mr Andrews – whose Mulgrave seat is a short drive from Mr Somyurek’s former Dandenong office – “crossed the line” in “designing” the red-shirts scheme.

“At the end of the day what we had was that we were desperate to win … he did something well beyond what he should have. He crossed the line. He designed this system.

“He told me personally, ‘You’ve got to take part in this process whether you want to win or not’, and that reflected his mentality at the time.”

He and 24 other MPs were “forced by the leadership” to sign off on false time-sheets six months in advance for their electorate officers, Mr Somyurek said.

“We signed false documents saying that our staff worked in our offices. They worked for the ALP campaigning, right? That flipped an election.

“I am very scared about the red shirts issue. I am very scared, so if this gets through today … I will be going home and not being able to sleep at night.

“But there is a principle on the line.”

Ms Glass in an earlier report referred to the red-shirt scheme as an “artifice” but didn’t recommend charges.

Her investigation was constrained by a lack of coercive powers to compel MPs as witnesses and subpoena documents, Mr Somyurek said.

Mr Somyurek recently admitted to Operation Watts of branch-stacking by him and his Moderate Labor faction, as well as being involved in ‘red shirts’.

He was gone from the party soon after the branch-stacking allegations broke on 60 Minutes in June 2020.

Mr Andrews has consistently denied knowing about the rort.

Opposition Upper House leader David Davis accused the government of “hindering” a Victoria Police investigation, which cleared more than a dozen Labor MPs of wrongdoing.

“The truth of the matter is that Daniel Andrews and many in this government should be in jail,” he told Parliament.

“They took the money, they stole the money, the theft happened, the crooked stuff happened—and they should be in jail.

“If you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear, and in this case you can see that Labor has a lot to fear because it is corrupt to the core.”

Against the motion, Labor MP Nina Taylor said the Victorian Ombudsman and IBAC had the resources and legislation needed to investigate alleged corruption.

“It is absolutely appropriate that they determine the scope of these investigations free from attempted political interference.”

Reason Party MP Fiona Patten took issue with the “lack of faith” shown in the Ombudsman, and with Mr Somyurek’s “absolutely self-serving” motion.

“I am also troubled that we would say that our independent organisations are not good enough, that we have to direct them, that it is up to us as politicians to direct those independent organisations.”

Greens leader Samantha Ratnam opposed “a person who is subject to a very serious investigation by IBAC and the Ombudsman bringing a motion … seemingly to change the terms of reference”.

After crossing the Upper House floor, Ms Vaghela is predicted to either resign or be kicked out of the ALP.

She and a swathe of MPs from Mr Somyurek’s faction had lost ALP pre-selection ahead of the 2022 state election.

In a statement she said the Socialist Left faction and other factions must be investigated.

“Branch stacking is endemic in the ALP, and I understand it has been for decades, therefore what happened at IBAC was a grave injustice because it was discriminatory.

“I am a migrant in this country and thought that everyone was equal when it comes to the law, apparently some people are more equal than others.”

Mr Andrews has pointedly refused to comment on Mr Somyurek and the motion.