Politics Editorial

No Sukkar for Labor over Liberal branch stacking revelations

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Cartoon by Mark David / @MDavidCartoons

Remember when branch stacking was the biggest scandal in Australian politics?

Sure, at the time there were other, far greater, unresolved issues that the Federal Government should have been made to address, but, well, the Victorian Labor Party was involved in branch stacking!

The PM said at the time:

"Albanese has been totally burnt by this scandal ... We’re fighting for jobs, they’re fighting each other."

The Labor Party was, he said, “absolutely at war” — and he did not stop there, adding for good measure, at his unctuous best:

“More seriously, this has gone to corruption ... Anthony Albanese is leading a party in absolute chaos and disarray.”

Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews took a dim view of the affair and did not allow the alleged culprit, powerbroker Adem Somyurek, the opportunity to resign, expelling him from the party instead.  

Andrews described Somyurek’s “conduct and comments” as:

“...completely deplorable, they are shameful and it is on that basis that there is no place in my Government for him.”

Case closed? Ha! Of course not. Not when there were so many Federal Government scandals needing to be forgotten. No, the Victorian ALP branch stacking issue dominated the front pages of print and online publications, radio waves and TV programs for weeks, as the media interrogated Albanese and Andrews mercilessly.

ABC’s Leigh Sales demanded of Albanese:

"How far does the rot go in the Labor Party?"

Fast forward two months and the shoe is now on the other foot, as the Liberal Party is – as it so frequently is – embroiled in a branch stacking scandal that practically relegates Labor’s one to amateur status. Turns out, the Liberals have been quietly and persistently not only keeping up with top industry standards in the stacking field, but actually perfecting the practice so as to surpass the Labor Party’s antics.

Meanwhile, as some within the Liberal Party stacking machine were honing their skills, it is timely to remember the blatant and unrelenting vehemence with which so many Liberals, at both state and federal level, demanded the resignations of Andrews and Albanese. Not to mention the endless calls for their scalps from right-wing commentators and the usual media suspects.

We can also say “once again” because the Liberals are hardly maiden voyagers in the art of branch stacking. There have been many earlier instances of Liberals stacking away at those branches, but they came and went, largely unnoticed, ignored and unreported. 

This time around, what was once a dabble into electoral manipulation appears to be a full-on dive into malfeasance.

The excellent report by Nick McKenzieJoel Tozer and Paul Sakkal in The Age details leaked documents and tapes, and points out:

The most serious allegations facing Mr Sukkar, the Federal Assistant Treasurer and Minister for Housing, and Mr [Kevin] Andrews involves their dealings with Liberal backroom powerbroker Marcus Bastiaan.

Taped phone calls capture Mr Sukkar plotting to remove four sitting Victorian Liberal state MPs while Mr Bastiaan is recorded targeting up to six federal Liberal MPs by 2020…

As well, Sukkar’s brother, Paul, was employed as an electorate officer in an apparent breach of both federal and state laws, which prohibit electorate officers from engaging in party political activity.

In the leaked conversations, however:

'Bastiaan was scathing of that restraint.

"Who gives a shit," he responded to one electorate officer in a call to discuss allegations taxpayer funds were being misused. "We are trying to win a f--ing seat mate."'

How has the Victorian Liberal Party, the one that has been relentless of its criticism of Labor’s handling of the comparatively “G-rated" Somyurek affair, handled the scandal?

Well, Bastiaan has been allowed to resign gracefully, there have been the usual denials and platitudes and – despite the misuse of public funds – there will only be an internal inquiry.

Federal Treasurer Josh Frydenberg said:

"[Sukkar] certainly has my support...

He's rejected those allegations and, as my assistant treasurer, he's done a very good job engaging with stakeholders and developing policy."

And on the matter of an inquiry?

"The Liberal Party will conduct its own internal process on that."

Given the obvious entanglement of Federal Assistant Treasurer and member of the PM’s inner circle, Michael Sukkar, as well as Member for Menzies Kevin Andrews, the longest-serving Federal Liberal MP, what did the PM have to say?

"This is an organisational matter for the Victorian division of the Party."

Have Morrison and Victorian State Liberal Leader Michael O'Brien been interrogated on every news channel? Will Sales demand to know how deep the rot goes in the Liberal Party?

There is no doubt that the Nine report has shone a light on this issue but it has hardly dominated broader mainstream media attention.

There is no equivalence in the treatment by the wider media of Coalition misdeeds, compared to those of the ALP — even when the misdeeds of the former outweigh those of the latter. 

And this is taking its toll on our democracy. Since 2012, Australia has slid eight points in Transparency International’s global corruption ranking.

Remember when branch stacking was singularly the biggest news in town?

*This is only half the story! Read the rest of this editorial in the IA members-only area. It takes less than a minute to subscribe to IA and costs as little as $5 a month, or $50 a year — a small sum for superb journalism and lots of extras.

You can follow executive editor Michelle Pini on Twitter @VMP9. You can also follow Independent Australia on Twitter at @independentaus or on Facebook HERE.

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