By Cam Lucadou-Wells
Accused branch-stacking MP Adem Somyurek hired a female staffer in his electorate office as a favour to factional colleague and Greater Dandenong councillor Loi Truong, an IBAC inquiry heard.
The staffer, who was paid for 22 taxpayer-funded casual shifts between April-early September 2019, was hired for no reason but “for Loi”.
It was one of several Somyurek hires described as ’factional patronage’ or ’nepotism’ at the IBAC Operation Watts inquiry, which is examining the misuse of public funds for ALP party-political purposes.
Mr Somyurek agreed that Cr Truong chose his own “friend” to work in the MP’s office.
He agreed Mr Truong was recruiting or “turning up” members to Labor branch meetings.
But he denied the hiring was a “quid pro quo” in exchange for this.
“The Cambodians had an MP. I was an MP. Loi was sort of with Anthony (Byrne, who is federal Holt MP).
“There was a view amongst us all that the Vietnamese were missing out.
“They had been with the Right for a long period of time. So when they wanted employment they should at least get it.”
When asked what work the staffer did, Mr Somyurek said she did what electoral officers do – “answering the phones, emails, people coming in.”
“It could be work coming in from the Vietnamese community as well, which tends to come in word of mouth and through the mobile phones.
“What I knew was that she was meant to be turning up and I got told she was turning up.
“I knew she was coming in, right, because she was a pain to the others.”
IBAC Counsel Assisting, Chris Carr questioned the need given there was “negligible” activity in Mr Somyurek’s electorate office – which was said to have staffing costs of more than $1 million in the past four years.
Mr Carr grilled Mr Somyurek on whether “having people sit idle” was “value for money” to taxpayers, as required under law.
The notion was “subjective”, Mr Somyurek said.
MPs also were able to discriminate based on ideology, values, political views, political activism and loyalty, he said.
“What does a Vietnamese-speaking person who provides a service to the Vietnamese community, which are about 25 per cent I think of some areas of my electorate – can you put a value on that?”
There was a “bit of grey area” whether “factional work” was part of his “public duties”.
“I just think you need to accept that by design political jobs are political.”
IBAC asserted some of Mr Somyurek’s staff were employed due to being branch-stacking recruiters or their factional “operational value”.
Mr Somyurek had told the inquiry he’d hired another electorate officer because they were having a “hard time”.
The officer had told IBAC he was paid for seven days while told not to turn up for work. He later alleged engaged in factional work, IBAC heard.
A former ALP state candidate was hired out of “altruism” because they’d left a well-paying job to unsuccessfully contest a marginal seat.
And a 20-year-old nephew of Mr Somyurek’s former electorate officer Pinar Yesil was paid a $95,000 salary despite having only previously worked in a pet shop.
Ms Yesil, a former Greater Dandenong mayor, had a “close personal relationship“ with Mr Somyurek, IBAC was told.
Mr Somyurek’s father was hired as a cleaner – though at much less than “market rates“, Mr Somyurek said.
IBAC tabled charts showing Mr Somyurek and other Moderate Labor-faction MPs hiring each other’s relatives, including Mr Somyurek’s son at federal MP Anthony Byrne’s office.
Mr Somyurek said nepotism was a symptom of a wider cultural issue than “one set of people“.
He also argued that using publicly-funded electorate officers for branch-stacking was “deeply embedded“ in ALP culture. It was the culture he was “inducted“ into, he said.
“If you’re going to say there are good guys and bad guys in the Labor Party based on this stuff … there are no good guys in the Labor Party, I can tell you that.“