Mayoral ’influence’

Deputy mayor Sophie Tan and mayor Angela Long after their elections on 19 November 2020.

By Cam Lucadou-Wells

Greater Dandenong’s outgoing mayor Angela Long says past mayoral elections have been tainted by outside political interference.

Cr Long responded to claims at an IBAC inquiry that former ALP factional powerbroker Adem Somyurek had “lobbied” Greater Dandenong councillors ahead of the 2019 mayoral vote.

“I think previously it could have been a problem,” the three-time mayor said.

“At the moment it’s not happening. People were shocked I actually got it (the mayoralty in 2020).”

Cr Long, who was part of a different ALP faction to Mr Somyurek, said she had no involvement with the MP.

“If anything he was trying to get me not to be mayor or to be on council.”

Cr Long said that she’d “never been asked by an MP to vote a certain way”, though she was bound by party rules to vote for Labor councillors in mayoralty votes.

At the Labor-dominated council, there have been a run of Labor mayors since an upset win by Liberal John Kelly in 2007-’08.

“Whether that’s fair or not, in the old days in the 1970s and 1980s in City of Dandenong, you needed to be a man, a Liberal and a business person or you didn’t get a shot,” Cr Long said.

At the ongoing IBAC Operation Watts inquiry into the ALP’s alleged use of taxpayer funds for branch-stacking, Holt MP Anthony Byrne accused Mr Somyurek of promising Cr Loi Truong the Greater Dandenong mayoralty in 2019.

But then Mr Somyurek instead “lobbied” Cambodian-background councillors Youhorn Chea and Sophie Tan to vote for victorious candidate Cr Jim Memeti.

Mr Byrne’s staff members told him that soon after the meeting Mr Somyurek met with Cr Memeti at a McDonald’s outlet “not far from my office” for two-and-a-half hours.

“So that led me to surmise something like that happened,” Mr Byrne – a former factional ally of Mr Somyurek’s – told IBAC.

Four-time mayor Cr Memeti said he couldn’t recall the meeting, which was based on Mr Byrne’s “second-hand information”.

“I’ve never spoken to Mr Somyurek regarding elections. I’ve never heard of Mr Somyurek influencing the mayoral election – nor any other MPs.

“It’s all done with councillors. All the councillors try to lobby their colleagues”

Greater Dandenong former councillors Peter Brown and Maria Sampey have since claimed that Mr Somyurek lobbied against them in mayoral elections.

In the 2019 election discussed at IBAC, Cr Memeti defeated Cr Sampey 6 votes to 5 in the final round.

Ms Sampey told Star Journal that she believed two councillors were ordered by Mr Somyurek to vote against her as well.

This was due to her voting for Cr Kelly and against party lines in 2007, she said.

“I couldn’t stand the way Adem Somyurek had so much control. Politicians shouldn’t be interfering in council business.”

Former councillor Peter Brown told Star Journal that Mr Somyurek “did everything he could to prevent me becoming mayor”.

According to Cr Brown, he was “punished” for his role in having ex-mayor Pinar Yesil being disqualified from council for missing three consecutive council meetings.

IBAC has heard that Ms Yesil was Mr Somyurek’s former electorate officer.

Cr Memeti and current deputy mayor Cr Tan are expected to contest the 2021-’22 mayoral election on Thursday 11 November.

Cr Memeti said he was prepared to lead a “relatively new council” during what would be a “very difficult year”.

Cr Tan did not respond to Star Journal’s enquiries.

Cr Long, who is president of the ALP’s Dandenong North branch, said she was confident that “corruption and branch-stacking” won’t be part of the ALP again.

As a deterrent, only members for at least two years could vote – under a recent party rule change, she said.

“We’ve gone through a revitalisation of the whole Labor party.

“We’ve pulled it apart and put it back together again.”

Greens councillor Rhonda Garad said: “This community deserves more than to be exploited or taken advantage of by Labor’s factions.

“The community deserves representatives that at all times are focused on the needs of the community.“