Federal Labor leader Anthony Albanese has distanced himself from the imploding Victorian government after two ministers fell on their swords on Monday as a corruption probe began.
Adem Somyurek was sacked from cabinet and resigned from the Labor Party as it was preparing to give him the boot over branch stacking allegations and “deplorable” comments he made in recordings aired by 60 Minutes on Sunday.
Branch stacking is when people are recruited into a particular branch of a party to influence who is selected as an election candidate. It has been described by former Labor leader Bob Hawke and Neville Wran as having a “cancerous effect” on the democratic process, in a 2002 report.
His factional ally, Assistant Treasurer Robin Scott, also stepped down from his ministerial responsibilities amid allegations he is at least one other frontbencher embroiled in the scandal.
Mr Somyurek was the Minister for Small Business and Local Government and one of 26 members on the ALP national executive including Mr Albanese, however his name has since been taken off the list.
During the recordings, in which Mr Somyurek described a female minister as a “stupid b***h” and a “moll”, he also declared, “Who is going to protect Albo?”
ABC 7.30 host Leigh Sales on Monday night said this seemed to imply his political reach “extends into Canberra”.
“He is someone I have barely met,” Mr Albanese replied.
“And the fact is, what’s concerning here, Leigh, is that when you have branch stacking and a distortion, essentially, of outcomes – and it does need to be stamped out.
“What I’m concerned about is those men and women who join the Labor Party join overwhelmingly for all the right reasons.
“They join because they want their kids to get a better education, they want better health care, they want a better standard of living. They want industrial rights. They want to see action on climate change. That’s why people join the Labor Party. And if you have non-genuine members joining, then that’s a distortion of that which is why it needs to be stamped out.”
Following the allegations of untruthful membership in Victoria’s Labor branch, Mr Albanese was pressed on whether the party had any federal MPs who “don’t deserve to be there”.
“No, we don’t,” he said.
He rejected the idea branch stacking was behind any of his Canberra colleagues being elected.
Asked by Sales how far the “rot” goes in the Labor Party, he reiterated comments made earlier on Monday about having “zero tolerance” for corruption.
“What we saw today was strong action from Premier Andrews, who dismissed Adem Somyurek as a minister, and then wrote to the national executive indicating that he would charge him and seek to expel him from the party,” the Labor leader said.
“And those issues have all been dealt with.”
He said it was clear that Mr Somyurek hadn’t been seeking political power to change society.
“It was political power for its own sake,” Mr Albanese said.
“That’s why the Labor Party is a better party today without Mr Somyurek’s membership and involvement.”
One question on Sales’ mind, like so many others on Monday, was whose office cameras were strung up inside to capture some of the recordings.
She cited a screen saver on one of the computers indicating it belonged to a federal Labor MP.
“I’m not aware of all the details, that’s a matter for Channel 9 and 60 Minutes,” Mr Albanese said.
Apologising as she cut him off, Sales said it was a “significant point” given the sensitive discussions by federal members on topics such as national security and intelligence.
“My job isn’t to investigate, indeed Premier Andrews has forwarded investigations onto the anti-corruption body in Victoria and that’s appropriate,” he said, noting police are also involved.
The ALP will reportedly intervene with an inquiry into the series of allegations against and surrounding powerbroker Mr Somyurek.
Senior party sources have told The Australian former Victorian Premier Steve Bracks is the favourite to head the probe along with former deputy federal leader Jenny Macklin however her appointment is less certain.
Mr Albanese backs their appointment, The Age reports, and has promised a “proper examination”.