MP’s swift response to 60 Minutes report

 

Scott Morrison's own words have come back to haunt him after a 60 Minutes investigation into branch stacking sparked a probe of one of his own Liberal Party frontbenchers.

As the Prime Minister marks the second anniversary of his ascension as Prime Minister, one of the lieutenants who pushed for the leadership ballot and backed Peter Dutton is embroiled in fresh controversy.

The Assistant Minister for Treasury Michael Sukkar has confirmed this morning that he has asked for an investigation into his own office after claims of branch-stacking emerged.

Mr Sukkar was caught on tape in secret recording plotting with a controversial Victorian powerbroker Michael Bastiaan in the program.

"I completely reject the allegations made in tonight's episode of 60 Minutes aired on the Nine Network,'' Mr Sukkar said on Monday.

"I have never authorised taxpayer funded staff to undertake party political activity outside of these policies and guidelines when they are being paid to serve the constituents of the Deakin electorate.

RELATED: Branch stacking - Adem Somyurek breaks silence

 

The Prime Minister has now found himself embroiled in the branch stacking saga as Liberal frontbencher Assistant Treasurer Michael Sukkar has been accused in the 60 Minutes investigation. Picture: Mick Tsikas/AAP
The Prime Minister has now found himself embroiled in the branch stacking saga as Liberal frontbencher Assistant Treasurer Michael Sukkar has been accused in the 60 Minutes investigation. Picture: Mick Tsikas/AAP

 

"In the interests of transparency and to remove any doubt, I have asked the Secretary of the Department of Finance to undertake an independent review of the staffing arrangements in the Deakin Electorate Office since my election in 2013."

Last night, Mr Morrison issued a brief statement about the investigation into his own Party on Sunday night: "This is an organisational matter for the Victorian Division of the Party."

But just weeks ago, Mr Morrison declared the Labor Party "are absolutely at war" after 60 Minutes uncovered what it described as "industrial scale" branch stacking.

In the fallout, Victorian Labor figure and right faction warlord Adem Somyurek was sacked and expelled from the party.

"Anthony Albanese has been totally burned by this scandal," Mr Morrison told Ben Fordham.

"We're fighting for jobs, they're fighting each other.

"Anthony Albanese is leading a party in absolute chaos and disarray."

But a new 60 Minutes investigation has accused Victorian Liberal MPs of plotting to remove sitting MPs and being involved in a branch-stacking operation.

The report from 60 Minutes claims Victorian Liberal MP Marcus Bastiaan and federal MP Michael Sukkar discussed using their influence to remove numerous sitting federal MPs.

Mr Sukkar is the Member for Deakin and the federal Assistant Treasurer and Minister for Housing. Mr Bastiaan is a Liberal backroom powerbroker.

RELATED: Liberals accused of 'plotting' and branch stacking

 

Former Victorian MP Adem Somyurek was sacked in June amid the branch stacking scandal. Picture: Tony Gough
Former Victorian MP Adem Somyurek was sacked in June amid the branch stacking scandal. Picture: Tony Gough

 

In secret voice recordings, social media communications and other leaked documents gathered during the investigation by 60 Minutes, the Sydney Morning Herald and The Age, the pair allegedly discussed removing different MPs up to 2020.

Mr Sukkar was recorded plotting to remove four state MPs and Mr Bastiaan was caught discussing removing six Liberal federal MPs.

Mr Sukkar denied being involved in branch stacking to the SMH, and Mr Bastiaan said he didn't breach the Liberal Party's constitution.

However in 2018 Mr Bastiaan was allegedly recorded in a phone call suggesting the party change its constitution.

"So why wouldn't we just change the (party) constitution, which is our plan, and open up preselections for 2020 when we've got the numbers all eligible.

"(When) we're locked in, we're institutionalised, we've got our members in the upper house, we've got a state director around our finger."

Materials leaked to the investigation by Liberal insiders include a memo from Mr Bastiaan, which sets out a plan to build a Bastiaan-Sukkar faction inside MP Kevin Andrews' office.

Mr Sukkar had responded to the memo saying "good summary," the SMH claimed.

RELATED: Labor Party at risk of splitting in two

 

Labor Party leader Anthony Albanese is struggling to keep his party under control. Picture: Dylan Coker/NCA NewsWire
Labor Party leader Anthony Albanese is struggling to keep his party under control. Picture: Dylan Coker/NCA NewsWire

 

The plan included giving taxpayer-funded jobs inside Mr Andrews' office to loyalists of Mr Bastiaan as electoral operatives, who would recruit more faction members once inside.

Mr Sukkar's brother was employed in the office in 2017. Stephanie Bastiaan, Marcus Bastiaan's wife, was also employed as an electoral officer in Mr Andrews office. She also worked for Mr Sukkar. Texts gathered by 60 Minutes show she agitated for the sacking of a fellow worker for doing their "electoral" work, saying they "don't need non-factional people" in the office.

The investigation suggested Mr Sukkar was not actively involved in branch stacking but said he may have benefited from it.

However one conversation exposed by the report appeared to show Mr Sukkar plotting to "get rid" of upper house members after they upset conservative Liberals by supporting a euthanasia bill.

"My view is there is four people in the upper house on our side who have broken faith: Simon Ramsay, Bruce Atkinson, Mary Wooldridge, Ed O'Donohue," Mr Sukkar said.

"I think we can get rid of Simon Ramsay. We can potentially get rid of Bruce Atkinson, that's harder, but we can - it is still in the mix. So that is two out of the four gone."

Originally published as MP's swift response to 60 Minutes report


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