Third MP resigns over secret tapes scandal
A third Victorian Government minister has resigned from cabinet after being caught out in secret audio recordings related to an explosive branch-stacking scandal.
Consumer Affairs Minister Marlene Kairouz allegedly encouraged parliamentary staff to work on the branch-stacking activities with powerbroker Adem Somyurek, The Age reports today, describing it as an "excellent" use of taxpayer-funded parliamentary officers.
Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews sacked Mr Somyurek and referred him to the state's police and anti-corruption watchdog yesterday, but stood by Ms Kairouz saying she had assured him she had "acted appropriately at all times".
In a statement this morning, Ms Kairouz said she was standing aside from her ministerial responsibilities.
"I no longer want these matters to be a distraction to the Government," Ms Kairouz said.
"I look forward to the opportunity to clear my name and am confident any investigative process will do so. I note these matters do not relate to any allegations of criminality or corruption."
She added she would continue to serve her electorate of Kororoit, "which remains the greatest honour of my life".
Last night, Assistant Treasurer and Minister for Veteran Affairs Robin Scott, whose staff allegedly assisted branch-stacking efforts, stepped down.
Mr Scott similarly said he did so to avoid "distraction" for the Government but vowed to clear his name.
But the Premier has so far stood by the two MPs.
Opposition Leader Michael O'Brien had called for Ms Kairouz to also be dropped from Cabinet.
Mr Somyurek will today enter his first parliamentary sitting since losing his job as a minister and his membership of the party.
It's unclear whether the upper house MP will show up at Spring Street today, with coronavirus restrictions limiting the number of MPs who can attend.
An investigation by The Age and 60 Minutes alleges Mr Somyurek handed over cash and used parliamentary employees to create fake branch members and amass political influence.
Mr Somyurek denies the allegations and wants police to investigate the recordings used in the exposé.
He claimed he was resigning solely due to offensive language used about fellow MP Gabrielle Williams. In the recordings, he describes her as "f***ing stupid b**ch", a "stupid moll" and says he is "going to f***ing knock her f***ing head off".
At another point Mr Somyurek was heard describing Young Labor members as "little passive aggressive f***ing gay kids".
Mr Andrews described the comments as "wicked", "shameful" and "deplorable" and said, contrary to Mr Somyurek's statement, that he was "not offered an opportunity to resign".
"He is not worthy of an opportunity to resign," Mr Andrews said on Monday. "He was sacked. And that is the fact of the matter. Any statements to the contrary are simply false."
Mr Andrews said he had asked the Independent Broad-based Anti-corruption Commission and Victoria Police to investigate the branch-stacking allegations.
The Premier also asked the Labor national executive to expel Mr Somyurek, a step it was preparing to take before he resigned.
Mr Scott's resignation clears the way for Mr Andrews to elevate his parliamentary secretary Danny Pearson to Cabinet after an earlier roadblock.
Mr Pearson was set to take over Mr Somyurek's portfolios of small business and local government before the party realised it had already reached the constitutional limit of 17 ministers from parliament's lower house.
Meanwhile, Victorian Labor president Susie Byers has written to members assuring them Mr Somyurek has no future in the party.
"Our members deserve a party that is open, transparent and democratic - where we treat each other with respect, and build the respect and trust of the wider community," she said in a letter to members.
There are also reports former Victorian premier Steve Bracks and former federal MP Jenny Macklin will head a review into the scandal.
Federal Labor leader Anthony Albanese on Monday night distanced himself from the imploding Victorian Government, rejecting the suggestion from ABC 7.30 host Leigh Sales that Mr Somyurek's political reach "extends into Canberra".
"He is someone I have barely met," Mr Albanese said.
"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 needs 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."
Meanwhile, the scandal has prompted federal Labor to begin the process of dissolving the Victorian branch of the party, the Herald Sun reports.
According to the paper, the move could have major ramifications for the factional balance within the powerful National Executive, which is currently balanced between left and right.
Mr Albanese is reportedly pushing for Mr Somyurek's vacated seat to be given to National Union of Workers secretary Tim Kennedy, which would swing the balance of power towards Mr Albanese's left faction.
Former Labor leader Bill Shorten told Nine's Today on Tuesday that the party "has been trying to clean up branch stacking across Australia".
"We thought it had, but clearly it hadn't in Victoria in this case," Mr Shorten said, but denied hearing anything. "Not like that, no.
"Most people wouldn't have a clue of this sort of conduct. You saw by the nature of conduct, you saw by the nature of the video, is it not something which is done in public in front of people."
Originally published as New secret tapes could claim third MP