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Everything you need to know about the Somyurek scandal

Jun 19, 2020 • 14m 12s

The Adem Somyurek scandal has now involved the federal Labor party, and poses a big question: who leaked?

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Everything you need to know about the Somyurek scandal

247 • Jun 19, 2020

Everything you need to know about the Somyurek scandal

RUBY:

Are you recording yourself at that end?

PAUL:

Yes I’m ready.

RUBY:

I bet Adem Somyurek wished he’d asked the same question!

[Laughter]

RUBY:

From Schwartz Media, I’m Ruby Jones, this is 7am.

The end of Adem Somyurek’s parliamentary career is the end of an important chapter in Labor’s factional history.
As the scandal embroils the federal party, one big question remains unanswered: who leaked the tapes?

Today, political columnist for The Saturday Paper, Paul Bongiorno, on the downfall of a Labor warlord.

**

RUBY:

Okay, Paul, where does this story start?

PAUL:

Well, Ruby, it starts with a carefully orchestrated sting that lasted 12 months and which ended last weekend when 60 Minutes aired covert recordings of Victorian Labour Party strongman Adem Somyurek boasting about branch stacking.

Archival tape -- 60 Minutes:

Tonight, an explosive yearlong investigation by 60 Minutes and The Age newspaper will reinforce the distrust and contempt many Australians have for our politicians...

PAUL:

Among other things, Somyurek named six federal MPs who owed him.

Archival tape -- 60 Minutes:

Taxpayer funded rorting...

Archival tape -- Somyurek [60 Minutes]:

The guy got a $30,000 dollar ***** payrise, because of a factional thing. And we’re in a state of war!

PAUL:

So the activities and the spectacular fall of this factional warlord have ramifications well beyond the borders of his fiefdom in Victoria.

Archival tape -- 60 Minutes:

And politicians turned into puppets...

Archival tape -- Somyurek [60 Minutes]:

We’re gonna take over. We’re gonna knock her head off. She’s a psycho .

Archival tape -- 60 Minutes:

...by Labor’s faceless man

PAUL:

There are 16000 members of the Labour Party in Victoria and according to some estimates, based on recorded claims of Somyurek himself, as many as a quarter of them are fake.

Archival tape -- 60 Minutes:

60 Minutes and The Age newspaper have obtained more than 100 audio and video surveillance files. It’s undeniable evidence which lays bare the dirty underbelly of the ALP.

PAUL:

The scandal has so far cost Adem Somyurek, his ministry and his membership of the Labour Party. There's a police investigation and a corruption enquiry underway, and two other state Labour government ministers have lost their jobs. So this is no small affair.

RUBY:

And who is Adem Somyurek?

PAUL:

Well, he's a Turkish Australian politician. He is or was a big wheel on the right of the Labour Party in the Victorian branch. Historically, he'd played a part in making a deal with a section of the left to protect Bill Shorten's leadership. Somyurek was relentless in his pursuit of dominance in the state party, and his naked grab for power hasn't been pretty.

He first lost his state ministry in 2015 after allegedly bullying and harassing his female chief of staff, who lodged a formal complaint. He was also involved in an incident in the parliamentary dining room where witnesses say he brandished a butter knife at a Labor colleague--

RUBY:

A butter knife, Paul!

PAUL:

Well, that's the allegation. Although Somyurek denies this.

And a few years back, he was the subject of media scrutiny after leaked text messages showed him threatening federal Labour powerbroker Richard Marles in an ugly disagreement. Somyurek said there would be big time payback against Marles, and spelled out his threats in one filthy, expletive laden text too obscene to quote here.
Well, these incidents were symptomatic of his crude bullying and threatening of senior Labour MPs, which went all the way to the top, including Premier Andrews and Bill Shorten when he was federal Labor leader.

RUBY:

Right. And speaking of that, where is Anthony Albanese in all of this?

PAUL:

Well, not exactly hiding under the doona, but cheering from the sidelines at Somyurek’s demise - and not wanting to be seen involved with the actions of his federal colleague, Anthony Byrne, a former Somyurek ally whose office was used as part of the sting.

But it will be hard for Albanese to avoid copping some of the muck that's flying around. In one of those 60 Minutes recordings, Somyurek boasted about his influence in Canberra. Albanese tried to say that he scarcely knew who Somyurek was.

Archival tape -- Albanese:

He is someone I've barely met...

PAUL:

He basically said that outside of Victoria, no one knew him. And that went for many of his federal colleagues.

Archival tape -- Albanese:

I barely know this bloke. I couldn't tell you where he lived, what electorate he was in. He's… he's not someone who's played any role in terms of the national organisation of the party, he’s on the national executive...

RUBY:

Could that possibly be true?

PAUL:

Well, Ruby, to a limited degree. Somyurek was also on the federal executive of the party with Albanese. Though, there's no doubt big noting yourself is stock in trade for backroom operators; they're always anxious to enhance the myth of their influence and power. In fact, one senior interstate labour figure told me Somyurek was a delusional prick. But there's no doubt Albanese would have known exactly who he was.

RUBY:

We'll be back in a moment.

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RUBY:

We're talking about the scandal that has engulfed the Labour Party this week. Tell me more about how it's impacting them federally.

PAUL:

Well, Labor's opponents have noticed. Scott Morrison went out of his way to jump on it as soon as he could on Monday in parliament; he seized on an age front page headline quoting Somyurek ‘who's going to protect Albo?’ - Morrison asked probably fairly what this could mean.

Archival tape -- Scott Morrison:

But I note that today we have 'Who's going to protect Albo?' on the front page of The Age. I quote it, Mr Speaker. I'm simply quoting the title of the document…

Archival tape -- Mr Speaker:

The Prime Minister will resume his seat.

PAUL:

The PM said the scandal raised a series of questions and undoubtedly the leader of the opposition would attempt to answer them with the candour he hoped. I think Morrison had his tongue firmly in his cheek that Albanese would at least match that of(the Victorian premier...

Archival tape -- Scott Morrison:

But the question is: who does he need to be protected from?

Archival tape -- Mr Speaker:

No, no. The Prime Minister will resume his seat.

Archival tape -- Scott Morrison:

I've completed my answer, Mr Speaker...

PAUL:

Well, Albanese at least promised a proper examination. And with the support - indeed, that at the request of the Victorian Premier, Daniel Andrews - the federal party has sacked the Victorian branch office holders and appointed administrators: party elders Steve Bracks and Jenny Macklin.

Archival tape -- reporter:

This comes on top of what has already been a very damaging week for the Labor Party. Its national executive has intervened into the Victorian branch, taking over preselections there and appointing administrators...

PAUL:

The voting rights of all Victorian Labour members are suspended until 2023, though federal party president Wayne Swan says this isn't locked in cement.

Well, Albanese applauded Andrews swift action, booting Somyurek out of the parliamentary party and the federal executive slapping a life ban on this felled warlord.

Archival tape -- Andrews:

Mr Somyurek was not offered an opportunity to resign. He’s not worthy of an opportunity to resign. He was sacked. And that is the fact of the matter.

RUBY:

It is all kind of staggering. Has Labor dealt with something like this before?

PAUL:

Well, it's actually almost a reprise of a scandal in Queensland 20 years ago. Then Labor Premier Peter Beattie had to deal with a similar mess over preselection rorting. Beattie famously said ‘that the people of Queensland wanted to kick the Labour Party in the bum’, and he, the Labor premier, was doing it for them.

A fellow Queenslander, Wayne Swan, now federal president of the party, says there was a comprehensive enquiry at that time - rules were changed, and he says the culture was changed and the party in Queensland is the better for it.

RUBY:

And Paul, I guess the other big question here is who leaked?

PAUL:

It is the big question. You know, it could almost be the million dollar question. Speculation has been rife around the parliament this week as to who cooperated with the Nine media investigation. It has all the hallmarks of an inside job. A hidden camera in the office of Somyurek friend and ally, Anthony Byrne, the federal member for Holt, caught some of the dirty dealings. Somyurek clearly believes his old ally has betrayed him. Somyurek on Thursday leaked to newspapers a series of texts from Anthony Byrne over the past two years, that to say the very least are highly embarrassing to the federal MP.

But the fact is - so uncouth was Somyurek’s exercise of power, matched only by his misogynistic and homophobic language, that his enemies were legion.

RUBY:

How do you address this sort of thing in politics - entrenched self-interest and possible corruption?

PAUL:

Well, obviously, one answer is the need for a Federal Integrity Commission. Well, this scandal it's true is immediately a Victorian state issue. But its trigger is the pursuit of power and influence. And this, by definition, is what politics everywhere is all about.

Branch stacking rears its head in all parties as individuals seek to influence the numbers they need to get into parliament and stay there with their party's endorsement. The states do have anti-corruption commissions, with New South Wales being the gold standard. And I would say the time has come for the federal government to establish a strong independent commission along the model of New South Wales.

There are a number of federal issues that are crying out for such attention, like the multi-million dollar sports-rorts, the Angus Taylor fake Sydney City Council letter, the multi-million dollar Paladin security contract, and the treatment of whistleblower lawyer Bernard Collaery and his client.

But sadly Morrison's on the record saying an integrity commission is a second order issue. And he's certainly put it on the long finger. On Tuesday, in fact, the government for the second time since the election. Gagged debate in the House of Representatives of a Greens bill that the Senate had passed to set up a strong independent integrity commission.

And Ruby, the longer this goes on, the more inexcusable it is.

RUBY:

Paul, thank you so much for your time today.

PAUL:

Thank you, Ruby. Bye.

[ADVERTISEMENT]

RUBY:

Also in the news

Australia's unemployment rate has jumped to its highest level in 19 years, according to the latest Bureau of Statistics figures.

It's estimated that more than 2-hundred-and-27-thousand jobs were lost last month, with the unemployment rate now sitting at 7.1 percent.

**

And Qantas is cancelling all its overseas flights up to late-October, after the Federal Tourism Minister said international travel to and from Australia is unlikely until at least next year.

Since the pandemic 11 airlines worldwide, including Virgin Australia, have collapsed and many others are on the brink.

**

7am is a daily show from The Monthly and The Saturday Paper. It’s produced by Ruby Schwartz, Atticus Bastow, and Michelle Macklem.

Elle Marsh is our features and field producer, in a position supported by the Judith Neilson Institute for Journalism and Ideas.

Brian Campeau mixes the show. Our editor is Osman Faruqi. Erik Jensen is our editor-in-chief.
Our theme music is by Ned Beckley and Josh Hogan of Envelope Audio.

New episodes of 7am are released every weekday morning. Subscribe in your favourite podcast app, to make sure you don’t miss out.

I’m Ruby Jones, see you next week.

The end of Adem Somyurek’s parliamentary career is the end of an important chapter in Labor’s factional history. The scandal has now involved the federal party, and poses a big question: who leaked?

Guest: Columnist for The Saturday Paper Paul Bongiorno.

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7am is a daily show from The Monthly and The Saturday Paper. It’s produced by Ruby Schwartz, Atticus Bastow, and Michelle Macklem. Elle Marsh is our features and field producer, in a position supported by the Judith Neilson Institute for Journalism and Ideas. Brian Campeau mixes the show. Our editor is Osman Faruqi. Erik Jensen is our editor-in-chief. Our theme music is by Ned Beckley and Josh Hogan of Envelope Audio. New episodes of 7am are released every weekday morning. Make sure you don’t miss out by subscribing on your favourite podcast app. I’m Ruby Jones, see you next week.

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auspol labor vicpol somyurek albanese




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247: Everything you need to know about the Somyurek scandal