The husband of a Victorian MP was paid taxpayer funded salaries by three other MPs to do factional work, according to evidence given to the state’s anti-corruption commission.
The Independent Broad-based Anti-corruption Commission (Ibac) resumed public hearings on Monday as part of its investigation into the alleged misuse of public funds for factional activity, including branch stacking, within the Labor party.
Branch stacking is not illegal but it is a breach of party rules.
Chris Carr SC, counsel assisting the commission, told the hearing MP Kaushaliya Vaghela agreed in an interview with investigators that her husband, Dinesh Chauhan, had “predominantly” done factional work when employed in taxpayer-funded electorate officer roles.
Chauhan worked in the offices of Marlene Kairouz, Robin Scott and Adem Somyurek. All three were implicated in widespread branch stacking last year, with Kairouz and Scott standing down as ministers, and Somyurek dumped from the ministry and resigning from the party. The trio have denied branch stacking.
Vaghela, an upper house MP for western metropolitan region, said she believed her husband was rotated by Somyurek from his office through the offices of Scott and Kairouz as a reward for his ability to recruit members of the Indian community.
A transcript of part of Vaghela’s Ibac interview was tendered as evidence to the commission on Monday.
“Your husband also, as we’ve already canvassed, has been quite active in the community, quite an active recruiter … do you think that was the predominant activity he was engaged in during these times?” an investigator asked Vaghela.
“Yes,” Vaghela replied.
She also agreed with the suggestion that Somyurek, Scott and Kairouz shared full-time staffer roles between their offices for their own factional purposes, including to “ensure that people who are good recruiters could be kept in the fold”.
Vaghela was told during the same interview that records of her husband’s work activity during 2020 showed he had sent one email using the address, which she agreed was “highly suggestive” he was mostly doing factional work.
Last month, federal Labor MP Anthony Byrne told the commission that Vaghela, the first Indian-born MP elected to Victorian parliament, was given her spot by Somyurek in exchange for a large number of Indian members recruited by Aloke and Manoj Kumar joining Somyurek’s moderate faction. It was not suggested Vaghela was aware of the scheme.
Vaghela’s evidence came to light during Carr’s questioning of Christine Kelly, an electorate officer who has worked for Kairouz since she was elected in 2008.
Carr said Ibac had uncovered evidence of forged documents being produced from the electorate office giving permission for Kelly to pick up ballot papers from ALP headquarters on behalf of members.
But Kelly said she had no knowledge of the letters, and could not recall any specific occasion when she collected ballot papers on behalf of members.
Kelly denied ever doing factional work for Kairouz, and said she was aware electorate officers were not supposed to do such work on their taxpayer-funded wages. She also disputed that Chauhan was involved in factional work and said he would always be working on official business while she was there.
She mostly dealt with constituents, she said, even though Carr showed her phone records for 2019 that showed for six months, the office averaged less than one incoming call per day.
Constituents emailed and stopped into the office, Kelly said, but she said that while the former electorate office at Mill Park was in a busy shopping centre, the current Caroline Springs office rarely had visitors.
Carr asked Kelly why she had attended a Derrimut branch meeting in 2019 that had to be cancelled after 70-80 members showed up unannounced and were “hostile”.
Kelly, along with three other staff employed by Kairouz in her ministerial or electorate office, had attended, and Carr asked if it was an attempt to take over the branch.
Kelly denied this, and a suggestion she had been one of the “leaders” who was responsible for directing the crowd to sign an attendance book. She said Kairouz had simply asked her to attend the meeting to give an update on local issues such as “a new footpath … or roundabout being put in”.
Kelly also denied seeing Kairouz in the carpark outside the meeting.
The hearings continue on Wednesday, when Kirsten Psaila, who has also worked for Kairouz in her electorate office since 2008, will give evidence.
Carr started the hearing on Monday by revealing that lawyers for the commission had asked the ALP Victorian branch to provide further information as part of its investigation. But the branch had so far declined to do so, Carr said, meaning the commission may have to compel them to comply.