By Cam Lucadou-Wells
Factional heavyweight and MP Adem Somyurek allegedly requested for his son to be employed at an electorate office, with the MP pocketing his son’s salary, an anti-corruption hearing was told.
Mr Somyurek’s one-time factional ally Anthony Byrne told the IBAC Operation Watts hearing on 11 October that he hired the son on taxpayer-funded wages because “Adem asked me to employ him”.
The son turned up to work, his salary went to Mr Somyurek, he said.
Mr Byrne believed the money was used to pay off a “debt” owed by Mr Somyurek.
“It was put to me that that would be the purpose, but also, as Adem put to me, to help develop his son’s skills and to give him some work experience.”
Mr Byrne said it was “very unlikely” he would have employed the son on his merits, though adding he was “very well liked in my office and he did work”.
Electorate office positions were also used to reward people assisting in factional work, including those who didn’t turn up to work, the Holt MP said.
He claimed Mr Somyurek requested him to hire two staff Burhan Yigit and Hakki Suleyman for months without expecting them to show up at the office.
Mr Yigit was a long-standing ALP member with control of a large number of members and based in Melbourne’s West. He was Mr Somyurek’s “extremely close” friend, Mr Byrne said.
“I was not happy with the request.
“The alternative was to have a lot more requests from different people that I’d sort of get a relatively regular basis about putting people on to my staff that were factional.
“I tried to reduce the number of people that were on my staff that had any direct connections to factions.”
Mr Suleyman’s hiring was part of a “deal” to bring his family over from another ALP faction to Mr Somyurek’s faction Moderate Labor.
He couldn’t work for a state MP because of an “adverse finding” as part of an investigation into Brimbank Council.
“Why did I do it? Because the consequences of not doing it would be that I probably wouldn’t be sitting here before you today as a Member of Parliament.”
He eventually ceased Mr Suleyman’s role.
“I said I can’t do it anymore, I just can’t keep on doing it“.
Mr Byrne said he implicitly understood that refusing the requests would jeopardise his preselection.
“I had assumed that someone like Adem would, as is his wont, get particularly upset and initiate some form of retribution.
“It could be abusing my staff.
“It could be – God knows. It could be arranging for my political execution.”
Under cross-examination, Mr Byrne was questioned about staff appointments Adam Sullivan, Nick McLennan and the son of former Greater Dandenong mayor Youhorn Chea.
“These are all people who you specifically asked Somyurek to employ, right?“ Mr Somyurek’s lawyer Remy Van der Wiel asked.
“I was trying to minimise as much as possible those people that I guess you’d say were involved in factional activity,“ Mr Byrne replied.
“So I may well have, on that basis, asked Adem to take those people on.“
In earlier evidence, Mr Byrne said his former staffer Mr McLennan was later being directed to do “factional activity” by Mr Somyurek as part of his day-to-day work as ministerial adviser for State Minister and factional ally Marlene Kairouz.
Mr Somyurek appointed Mr McLennan as Ms Kairouz’s ministerial adviser, Mr Byrne said.
Mr McLennan also worked on “factional matters” during his working day as Mr Byrne’s electorate officer. Other members of Mr Byrne’s paid staff did the same, Mr Byrne said.
“If I’d felt that I’d had a choice it wouldn’t have happened,” Mr Byrne said.
Mr Byrne had told the inquiry his electorate staff were also inappropriately tasked to assist other ALP candidate’s election campaigns such as Tim Richardson and in the seat of La Trobe.
His staff were also involved in collecting and filling out blank membership ballots from “stacked“ members to elect delegates for the ALP national executive.
This task was done during the staff’s day to day work as well as weekends, and may have occurred at his office, Mr Byrne said.
On occasions, “stacked” members had filled out their own ballots and sent them to head office.
They were then told to sign a letter to head office and say they “made a mistake” and request a fresh ballot paper – which would be then filled out by “factional operatives”.
Mr Byrne believed pro-forma letters and signatures were forged.
According to IBAC, about 40 per cent of ballots were reissued in Holt.
Mr Byrne agreed that ALP’s head office was “willfully blind” to what was going on behind the scenes.