A senior member of a Labor party faction that allegedly used public resources as part of a vast branch stacking operation has implicated another Andrews government MP in the scheme.
Rick Garotti, the mayor of Banyule council, in Melbourne’s north, gave evidence during an Independent Broad-based Anti-corruption Commission public hearing on Monday.
The commission is investigating 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.
Garotti agreed that apart from state MPs, he was the most senior member of a faction led by Adem Somyurek that was involved in branch stacking.
The faction had a grouping of Labor party branches in the north they controlled, Garotti said.
Garotti said one of those branches was controlled by Nazih Elasmar, the president of Victoria’s upper house, the legislative council.
Garotti described Elasmar as a “linchpin” for the faction in the north. No evidence was provided to the commission that directly implicated Elasmar in branch stacking or any other illegal or improper conduct.
Garotti said he joined the Labor party in either 2002 or 2003 but quit earlier this year after being implicated in branch stacking as part of an internal party review.
He admitted that in the five to six years prior to leaving the party he would have spent about $3,000 each year paying for other people’s party memberships in breach of party rules.
Garotti was involved in the Heidelberg branch in the party, and had aspired to be an MP, he said. While he could not recall an exact conversation about how to involve himself in branch stacking and factional politics, he agreed he gradually became more active in the party.
It was known to be common practice, he said, that MPs would pay for the memberships of people within that branch who joined, but he again could not recall a specific conversation about this process.
The commission heard more details from Garotti about the faction securing jobs within electorate and ministerial offices to reward individuals who had assisted in branch stacking, and showed text messages between Garotti and Somyurek in which the pair discuss funding applications and vacant positions for which ministers could be lobbied.
Garotti agreed with the suggestion from counsel assisting, Chris Carr SC, that the behaviour went to “this endemic culture of factional patronage” that existed in the group.
In one instance, Garotti told the hearing that he had lobbied Somyurek for Hussein Haraco – another Heidelberg branch executive member who Garotti said paid for party memberships, particularly within his own Somali community – to receive employment within the office of Somyurek and the office of a federal MP. Garotti said he also lobbied for another member of his “team” to receive taxpayer-funded work.
“Did you suggest that as part of your team doing good work for the faction that [Haraco] needed to be looked after,” Carr asked Garotti.
“Because the culture, as you understood it, was that roles as electorate officers were a form of currency to be deployed by MPs to reward those in the faction?”
Garotti agreed, saying he understood that was the culture because “I don’t think it was a secret to anyone that that’s how things worked”.
Garotti is expected to continue giving evidence on Tuesday. Haraco is scheduled to appear before the public hearings on Wednesday.