‘Wads of cash’ from Victorian Labor MPs used to buy party memberships, Ibac inquiry told | Victorian politics

A Labor staffer has told a Victorian anti-corruption hearing he handled “wads of cash” from MPs to pay for party memberships and bought thousands of dollars worth of stamps using public funds that were used for political purposes.

Adam Sullivan, who worked in a series of roles for MPs in Labor’s moderate faction, gave evidence on Wednesday at the Independent Broad-based Anti-corruption Commission (Ibac) investigation into branch stacking within the Victorian branch of the ALP.

Ibac has heard Adem Somyurek allegedly masterminded a vast branch stacking operation on behalf of the moderate faction. He has not appeared at the public hearings which started on Monday.

Branch stacking and paying for memberships is not illegal, but the commission is investigating whether public resources were misused to further factional activities.

On Wednesday, Sullivan said that in 2018 he was advised by Nick McLennan, another staffer who worked on behalf of the moderate faction, to buy stamps using the electorate office budget of Somyurek. Sullivan said he was asked to “re-route” the stamps inconspicuously, so as to not attract the attention of parliamentary services, the body which investigates electorate office spending.

Sullivan was employed as a full-time electorate officer for Somyurek at the time. While he had no direct knowledge of Somyurek approving the scheme, Sullivan said McLennan told him he had spoken to Somyurek about it, and Sullivan did not believe it would be a problem because of the “environment” within the office.

Sullivan said he bought $11,000-$14,000 worth of stamps and “a fair number” of them were sent on to be used in the election campaign of Tim Richardson in Mordialloc. No suggestion was made during the hearing that Richardson, a current MP, was aware of the scheme.

Sullivan said he heard evidence given earlier this week by federal MP Anthony Byrne in relation to widespread branch stacking within the moderate faction, which involved paying for the memberships of others in breach of party rules.

When asked by Chris Carr SC, counsel assisting, where the funds to pay for these memberships came from, Sullivan said in his experience it was provided by MPs or “aspiring” MPs.

He gave three examples during which this occurred: when he was given about $700 by Byrne, when he was given $2,000-$3,000 by Somyurek, and when he was given $4,000-$5,000 by Steve Michelson, a former Labor staffer.

Byrne gave evidence earlier this week that Michelson made the contribution to the memberships kitty so that he would be looked upon favourably in his bid for a federal seat.

With the exception of Byrne, Sullivan said the other payments were made in the form of “wads of cash” in an envelope. Byrne has previously told the commission the funds were sourced in part from holding large fundraising dinners.

Carr asked Sullivan a series of questions about the cleanliness of Somyurek’s electorate office, where he worked full-time for eight months starting in August 2017.

Sullivan described it as “decrepit, run down, it came complete with cobwebs”, and there was a cockroach infestation in the kitchen that required an exterminator.

Somyurek paid for his father to clean the office, Sullivan confirmed, but he said the only time he saw him was when he arrived asking to be paid. The only evidence any cleaning had ever been done was about once a week when it appeared the bathroom had been cleaned, he said.

Sullivan gave evidence there was a “pattern” of Labor branch secretaries also holding positions in electorate or ministerial offices, despite the former being a political role and the latter being publicly funded.

He believed there had been an acceptance of branch stacking within the party, and a disregard for any concern about the use of public resources for factional work, because everyone in the party was doing it, and therefore had “skeletons in the closet”. Nobody would blow the whistle because it would have led to “mutually assured destruction,” he said.

Carr said Sullivan was described by those that knew him as a “thoroughly decent person”. When asked whether there “were things you did in the course of your employment … that you are thoroughly ashamed of”, Sullivan said he agreed.

The hearing continues.

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