Former Australian Labor Party (ALP) leader Bill Shorten has renewed calls for a federal level anti-corruption watchdog after Victorian Labor minister, Luke Donnellan, resigned on Oct. 11, just hours after he was named in a public inquiry into “branch stacking” in the state.
Shorten said the evidence presented during the first day of hearings highlighted the need for a federal body.
“This is why we need a federal anti-corruption commission … people hate seeing this sort of stuff, but frankly, I would rather it be seen and dealt with than covered up,” Shorten told Nine Network on Oct. 12.
“This isn’t the way that our political party should be operating, and IBAC’s got a fair way to go,” he said.
“For the vast majority of ALP members … they will be frustrated and feel betrayed because this is not what the vast majority of ALP members sign up for,” he added. “It’s like being hit in the stomach, and no wonder people get frustrated with politics when they see these antics; it’s not the way it should be.”
Shorten’s comments come after he was named by federal ALP member of Parliament Anthony Byrne, who said Shorten’s former advisor, Steve Michelson, paid $5,000 to be given preferential treatment for the takeover of a federal seat after the previous representative was “retired or was pushed out of the seat.”
Discussion around the need for a federal anti-corruption watchdog has been ongoing in recent years.
David Flint, emeritus professor of law, has pointed out that Parliament needs to be careful in how much authority is given to such bodies, particularly in light of the resignation of New South Wales Premier Gladys Berejiklian in early October after the state’s anti-corruption watchdog, the Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC), announced an investigation into her activities.
“The two powers that ICAC should never have had and, in my view, should have been removed were to hold public hearings as if they were a criminal trial and to make findings without a trial before a judge and jury,” he wrote in an op-ed publish in The Epoch Times. “These offend both the rule of law and the separation of powers.”
Meanwhile, Victoria’s Independent Broad-based Anti-corruption Commission (IBAC) is conducting a wide-ranging investigation into “serious corrupt conduct” and the misuse of public money for “party-political work or other improper purposes.” One issue under the spotlight is branch stacking.
Australian political parties choose representatives to stand for office via a preselection system that relies on members in each electoral branch to vote for their preferred candidate.
Practitioners of branch stacking will recruit and sign-up members to influence the outcome of preselecting candidates. While not illegal, the practice is banned under ALP rules.
Byrne, the first witness, gave a damning indictment of the prevalence of branch stacking in Victoria, saying it was “out of control.”
“I saw things and heard things that I didn’t think I’d ever see in a modern Labor party,” he told the inquiry.
Byrne said several state members of Parliament were involved in branch stacking, including Adem Somyurek, Marlene Kairouz, Tim Richardson, Katie Hall, Tien Kieu, Meng Heang Tak, and Luke Donnellan.
Donnellan announced his resignation, saying he had notified Premier Dan Andrews that he would be stepping down and moving to the backbench.
“I accept that I have previously breached party rules while a minister.
“But let me be very clear: I never misused public funds or resources in any way. And this has absolutely nothing to do with my staff,” he said in a statement.