Taxpayer-funded migrant centre staff campaigned for ALP
Staff at a taxpayer-funded centre for migrant workers were "ordered" to campaign to secure a Labor Party victory in the lead-up to the 2018 state election, it has been claimed.
As the branch-stacking rorts crisis deepened within the Victorian Labor Party, a whistleblower claimed staff of the Migrant Workers' Centre, who were meant to be supporting exploited workers, were told to campaign against the Liberal Party.
According to the whistleblower, workers distributed anti-Libs material ahead of the election, including "Lucky Lobsters" cards - referencing former Liberal leader Matthew Guy's controversial dinner with alleged mafia boss Tony Madafferi at bayside seafood restaurant The Lobster Cave.
Migrant Workers' Centre director Matt Kunkel yesterday admitted employees campaigned on particular issues, but denied it was on behalf of the ALP. The whistleblower claimed the campaigning efforts extended to the 2019 federal election. The alleged scheme is reminiscent of Labor's infamous "Red Shirts" rort that saw almost $388,000 in taxpayers' money spent on part-paying electorate staff to campaign for the 2014 election.
Victorian Ombudsman Deborah Glass admonished Labor, which repaid the money, for wrongly using electoral officers to campaign.
Her report was released just months before the migrant centre employees were allegedly sent campaigning. The Herald Sun can also reveal about 5300 of Labor's 16,000 Victorian memberships, including almost half in Mr Andrews' own seat, were paid for in cash.
Labor is facing calls to stamp out untraceable cash payments common in branch-stacking operations.
On Wednesday, Premier Daniel Andrews said - after Victorian Labor members were stripped of any power in light of the sacking of Adem Somyurek and resignations of his Cabinet colleagues Marlene Kairouz and Robin Scott - that he was "not particularly fussed" whether the move was popular.
According to the whistleblower, staffers at the Migrant Workers' Centre said they were asked to organise booth kits, doorknock to solicit petition signatures and distribute political pamphlets. Some of the campaign material was authorised by Victorian Trades Hall Council secretary Luke Hilakari, credited with playing a key role in helping Mr Andrews win the 2014 election.
The government has been forced to defend the work of Mr Hilakari's brother Mat, a convener of Mr Andrews' Socialist Left faction, amid suggestions he spent his days on party matters. He works for Mental Health Minister Martin Foley and as an adviser to federal MPs Julian Hill in Bruce and Peta Murphy in Dunkley. Opposition Leader Michael O'Brien said the claims represented further evidence that the government would "stop at nothing to ensure it tightens its control over Victorians".
"The Andrews Labor government uses taxpayers' money to target multicultural groups, the LGBTI community and others to carry out Labor's dirty work," Mr O'Brien said.
"The only way to clean up political corruption in Victoria is to clean out the Andrews Labor government at the next election."
The Migrant Workers' Centre was opened ahead of the 2018 state election by then multicultural affairs minister Robin Scott with a $2.3 million government grant. It advocates for the rights of migrant workers and international students at risk of being exploited.
"This new centre will better protect and support migrant workers and international students, who are more vulnerable to exploitation at work," Mr Scott said at the time.
A response was sought from the government.
ALBANESE 'IN THE DARK'
Federal Attorney-General Christian Porter has raised major concerns about the bugging of a Labor MP's Melbourne office and questioned Opposition leader Anthony Albanese's claim he didn't recognise the room on the covertly-recorded tapes.
Mr Porter said on Wednesday that it was "quite remarkable" Mr Albanese didn't notice it was federal Member for Holt Anthony Byrne's office on the tapes, which allegedly show branch stacking operations and have plunged the Labor Party into crisis.
He said the bugging was of "some serious concern".
"At a federal level there are very strict rules around the use and authorised use of surveillance devices, which essentially restrict that use to law enforcement agencies," Mr Porter told parliament.
"Everyone in this parliament would agree the idea that a non-law enforcement device would appear to have been installed in the office of any member of this parliament is the matter of some serious concern."
Mr Byrne said on Wednesday that he had offered his full assistance to anti-corruption authorities. But the ranking Labor member on the parliamentary intelligence committee refused to say whether he agreed to help authorities before or after Sunday night's 60 Minutes revelations.
He released a statement responding to what he said was "misinformation circulating" after Mr Albanese struggled to explain why he had not talked to the member for Holt about the sting.
Mr Albanese, who watched the 60 Minutes program, said he "wasn't aware of Mr Byrne's office involvement until much later on", despite the covert footage showing pictures of Holt electorate maps and campaign material.
He said he had not spoken to Mr Byrne because of the Independent Broad-based Anti-corruption Commission investigation, even though he did not know if his colleague was involved in the probe.
The Herald Sun revealed on Wednesday momentum was growing for an investigation into the source of the covert recordings, which were made in Mr Byrne's electorate office in Fountain Gate.
"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.
"I welcome investigations into corruption (it) has no place in the party I love."
Liberal MP Andrew Hastie, who leads the intelligence committee with Mr Byrne, defended him as "a great patron" who "loves his country".
He said questions about the bug in Mr Byrne's office were "legitimate".
"What I know from Anthony's character, he wouldn't compromise our national interest," Mr Hastie told Sky News.
Originally published as Taxpayer-funded migrant centre staff campaigned for ALP