IBAC Victoria hearings LIVE updates: Adem Somyurek back before Victorian Labor branch stacking inquiry

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Background about Operation Watts and the IBAC inquiry

The public hearings running this week are part of an inquiry called Operation Watts into allegations of corrupt conduct involving Victorian public officers, including members of parliament.

The investigation is run jointly by the Victorian Independent Broad-based Anti-corruption Commission and the Victorian Ombudsman and its remit includes allegations of branch stacking in the Victorian Labor Party, as first revealed in an investigation by The Age and 60 Minutes last year.

Branch stacking is an organised method of accumulating internal power in a party by recruiting, and usually paying the fees for, new members.

But it’s much more pointed than just that. The real question is whether public officers, including Victorian members of parliament, are engaging in corrupt conduct by directing ministerial or electorate office staff to perform party‐political work when they should instead be doing ministerial or electorate work.

It will also look at whether public money given by the Victorian government as grants to community associations, has been redirected and misused to fund party‐political activities, or for any other improper purposes. It will ask if ministers or others involved in granting the funds have “dishonestly performed their functions” or “knowingly or recklessly breached public trust”.

The inquiry will look into whether any public officer, their families or their associates, received a personal benefit from these things, and looks at what systems and controls are in place to monitor these money flows.

The hearing is expected to go for at least four weeks. It’s overseen by IBAC Commissioner Robert Redlich, QC, and run by counsel assisting Chris Carr, SC.

‘Are you saying IBAC could be listening?’: Listen to the secret tapes

During his first two days of evidence, Adem Somyurek was played a number of secretly recorded conversations, some of which were the result of the anti-corruption commission intercepting his calls.

Mr Somyurek told the hearings that following a 60 Minutes and Age investigation, he was careful about what he said on the phone.

In one call, Mr Somyurek told former Banyule mayor Rick Garotti to be careful, and that his staff should at the very least log in to his computer.

“They just need to very careful, and logging in, I’m not sure if he logs in, that’s the thing,” Mr Somyurek said.

Mr Garotti said: “Are you saying IBAC could be listening on this call…well, it’s scary mate, the territory we’re in.”

Welcome back

Welcome back to The Age’s live coverage of the state’s corruption watchdog public hearings into allegations of branch stacking and misuse of taxpayer funds by members of the Victorian Labor Party, including government ministers.

Today, former cabinet minister Adem Somyurek – who quit Labor last year – is in the witness box for a third day of questioning about his role as a factional leader who, as the inquiry has heard, is accused of paying for memberships to the party for other people and deploying taxpayer-funded electoral officers to build both his and his faction’s power base.

Adem Somyurek’s appearance at IBAC was yet again punctuated by Commissioner Robert Redlich warning him to answer the questions. Credit: Supplied

By the end of his second day in the box on Tuesday, Mr Somyurek had made some important concessions, including that some of his actions could be categorised as corruption, while he admitted he lost all perspective during a factional war.

As The Age’s state political reporter Sumeyya Ilanbey wrote, the former powerbroker agreed he was involved in the practice of paying electorate staff who worked on factional activities, but denied he was part of a scheme that endorsed widespread rorting of public money.

You can read Ilanbey’s piece here.

The hearings are expected to be streamed from 10.30am today, with state politics reporter Paul Sakkal filing to the blog for the morning.

Background about Operation Watts and the IBAC inquiry

The public hearings running this week are part of an inquiry called Operation Watts into allegations of corrupt conduct involving Victorian public officers, including members of parliament.

The investigation is run jointly by the Victorian Independent Broad-based Anti-corruption Commission and the Victorian Ombudsman and its remit includes allegations of branch stacking in the Victorian Labor Party, as first revealed in an investigation by The Age and 60 Minutes last year.

Branch stacking is an organised method of accumulating internal power in a party by recruiting, and usually paying the fees for, new members.

But it’s much more pointed than just that. The real question is whether public officers, including Victorian members of parliament, are engaging in corrupt conduct by directing ministerial or electorate office staff to perform party‐political work when they should instead be doing ministerial or electorate work.

It will also look at whether public money given by the Victorian government as grants to community associations, has been redirected and misused to fund party‐political activities, or for any other improper purposes. It will ask if ministers or others involved in granting the funds have “dishonestly performed their functions” or “knowingly or recklessly breached public trust”.

The inquiry will look into whether any public officer, their families or their associates, received a personal benefit from these things, and looks at what systems and controls are in place to monitor these money flows.

The hearing is expected to go for at least four weeks. It’s overseen by IBAC Commissioner Robert Redlich, QC, and run by counsel assisting Chris Carr, SC.

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