IBAC launches investigation into Labor branch stack scandal

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IBAC has sweeping powers to raid properties, tap phones and carry out other forms of surveillance as well as the authority to compel witnesses to testify without many of the legal protections afforded by the criminal and civil courts.

Mr Andrews office said it had no comment on IBAC’s statement.

The confirmation of the full-blown IBAC investigation came after State Parliament called in the Victorian Ombudsman to investigate the corruption allegations that have rocked Labor.

Premier Daniel Andrews is also trying to wrangle his party’s rival factions to find replacements for the three ministers who have resigned or been sacked in the wake of the revelations.

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The President of the upper house, Shaun Leane, has emerged as the frontrunner to join Essendon MP Danny Pearson as two of the three likely new faces on Labor’s frontbench in the wake of the sacking and departures of Mr Somyurek and his close allies Robin Scott and Marlene Kairouz.

Both Mr Pearson and Mr Leane are factionally aligned with Labor’s right but not close allies of Mr Somyurek, while a field of up to eight potential candidates from the parliament’s lower house are beginning to jockey for the remaining spot in cabinet.

Mr Andrews is expected to announce his reshuffled frontbench this week.

As the political crisis continued to unfold on Wednesday, former Victorian premier Steve Bracks said Labor’s “whatever it takes” culture led to the scandal racking the party, as the ALP hero began work as an administrator of the party’s state branch after Labor’s federal authority took control of the local party.

But there is already sniping from members of the party’s Right Faction, which was dominated by Mr Somyurek until his dramatic downfall on Sunday night, that the federal takeover is a power grab by Mr Andrews and his Socialist Left faction.

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In another development on Wednesday, the federal Labor backbencher whose electorate office was the scene for the covert filming used to uncover the extent of wide-spread branch stacking within the Victorian division said he was co-operating with authorities.

Veteran MP Anthony Byrne was a long-time ally of former Right faction powerbroker Mr Somyurek, who was sacked by Premier Daniel Andrews on Monday.

Mr Byrne told The Age there was “misinformation circulating” about his role in the investigation, which had triggered Victoria Police and Independent Broad-based Anti-corruption Commission investigations.

“I want to make clear that I take the matters raised recently seriously and have been in touch with authorities to offer my full assistance,” Mr Byrne said.

The referral of the scandal to the state ombudsman, by a vote on Wednesday of the Victorian Parliament’s upper house, comes after referrals by the government on Monday to Victoria Police and to the IBAC.

Liberal MP David Davis, who led Wednesday’s motion, said the ombudsman would be well placed to investigate after doing the the majority of the work on the inquiry into Labor’s “Red Shirts” scandal, where MPs were found to have directed taxpayer money towards campaigning.

“It is important that this be investigated thoroughly by all the relevant independent bodies …” Mr Davis said in Parliament on Wednesday.

Opposition Leader Michael O’Brien’s push to involve ombudsman Deborah Glass was initially resisted by the government in Parliament on Tuesday.

However, on Wednesday Jaclyn Symes, Labor’s leader of the upper house, said the government was now in favour.

“In effect this motion seeks to commence another inquiry by another independent body …,” Ms Symes said in Parliament.

“I … agree that the Ombudsman is able to consider these matters herself and to form her own judgements, and we are certainly not denying the seriousness of these allegations. ”

Mr Bracks, who was a member of the Labor Unity right-aligned group during his politically active days, says he no longer has a faction and that the crisis gripping the party goes beyond its internal left-right divide.

“This has nothing to do with any lift right or factional issues,” Mr Bracks said on Wednesday.

“I wouldn’t know, half the time, which part of the party someone comes from.”

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