Albanese asks finance department if Byrne broke official personnel rules

Anthony Albanese has referred Labor MP Anthony Byrne to the Department of Finance to investigate his employment of taxpayer-funded staff who failed to report to his office.

Albanese said he first asked Byrne if he would refer to the department rather than the staff, which was hired at the request of a faction leader.

But Byrne said he had legal advice it was not appropriate, due to commitments he had made to the Victorian Independent Broad-based Anti-Corruption Commission.

“Therefore, I fired Mr. Byrne,” Albanese said.

At the IBAC last week, the Labor MP, who has occupied the Victorian federal seat in Holt since 1999, admitted to engaging in branch stacking and agreeing to hire two staff members at the request of the factional power agent Adem Somyurek. The men didn’t even appear in the office.

When asked if the two did faction work while on his team, Byrne replied, “I would assume so”, although he had no direct knowledge of it. “I just didn’t know what they were doing.”

When told that “between you and Mr. Somyurek, you have indeed consumed taxpayers’ money inappropriately”, Byrne replied “yes”.

He also testified that regular staff in his office did shift work.

Byrne was a longtime ally of Somyurek, but after their argument he became a whistleblower.

The revelation of the resulting branch stacking scandal led to the downfall of four Victorian government ministers, including Somyurek, who is expelled from the party and sits in the cross-bench.

The IBAC is holding public hearings “into allegations of serious corrupt conduct involving Victorian public officials”, including MPs.

Read more: Grattan on Friday: Anthony Albanese had to lead by example on the issue of job integrity

These are part of a co-ordinated investigation between the IBAC and the Victoria Ombudsman, looking into issues such as branch stacking allegations that aired in the media last year, which included footage shot secretly in the office by Byrne.

Stacking branches is against ALP rules but not illegal. But the misuse of personal employees of taxpayers’ money can result in violations of the law.

Last year, Federal Minister Michael Sukkar and former Minister Kevin Andrews were investigated by the Department of Finance after allegations of misuse of election officers to recruit Liberal Party members to increase the number of factions.

They denied the allegations and were both cleared. The Department of Finance said: “Further investigation into matters falling within the scope of the review is not warranted as there is insufficient basis to conclude that there has been serious abuse of Commonwealth resources”.

Albanese has avoided questioning whether Byrne will be the Labor candidate in the election, but it looks increasingly unlikely that he will be.

Read more: IBAC vs ICAC: what are these anti-corruption commissions and how do they compare?

“We will deal with these issues when the time is right,” Albanese said. “Currently, the IBAC is still holding hearings.

Byrne resigned from his membership in the House Intelligence and Security Committee and the Privileges Committee.

Albanese came under increasing pressure to take a tough stance against him, especially given how forcefully he spoke out against Sukkar.

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