MELISSA FYFEMay 30, 2010
PROMINENT federal MP Bill Shorten secured his spot in Parliament with the support of Victoria’s most notorious Labor branch stackers, a former party insider alleges.
And, for the first time, the branch-stacking claims by the insider and whistleblower, Costas Socratous, have been confirmed by the party members he used to bolster the power base of politicians such as Mr Shorten, the parliamentary secretary for disabilities and children’s services.
Mr Socratous has alleged what many Labor insiders have long believed – that Mr Shorten’s 2006 preselection for Maribyrnong was secured with the support of members branch-stacked by him, retiring state MP George Seitz and former electoral officer Hakki Suleyman.
At the time, sitting MP Bob Sercombe, realising he did not have the numbers, stepped down from the ballot and blamed ”a series of sleazy deals” for his demise. Critics within the party claimed it never effectively dealt with allegations of branch stacking at the time.
The Sunday Age has obtained documents showing Mr Socratous paid for at least 12 memberships in Maribyrnong – against party rules – but he said Mr Seitz and Mr Suleyman branch-stacked many more members to lock in Mr Shorten’s power base in preselection votes.
”If he wasn’t supported by George Seitz, Hakki Suleyman and myself there was no way he was going to get up,” Mr Socratous said in an interview early last week.
The Sunday Age also has documents that show 47 people were branch-stacked into the Gorton seat of Home Affairs Minister Brendan O’Connor, but Mr Socratous said this was to benefit state members in the area, not the minister. He said Mr O’Connor knew about the branch stacking but did not like it.
Mr Socratous – who two weeks ago caused a furore when he named his former bosses, retired state industry minister Theo Theophanous and state parliamentary secretary MP Telmo Languiller as the architects of a long-running branch-stacking scheme – said Mr Shorten was not involved in branch stacking but knew it occurred.
Yesterday Mr Shorten did not answer The Sunday Age’s question about whether he had benefited from branch stacking. But in a statement, he said: ”I absolutely and categorically deny I have any knowledge of Mr Socratous paying for memberships of his associates.”
Mr Suleyman, who lost his job as an electorate officer for Planning Minister Justin Madden following the Ombudsman’s Brimbank City Council report, chose not to directly answer the branch-stacking allegation. He said: ”I am against branch stacking. Allegations recently made to the media have been referred, as I understand, to the appropriate bodies for investigation.”
Mr Seitz denied he was a branch stacker. ”Bill Shorten was still in nappies when some of my members joined the party,” he said. Branch stacking had only arisen in the party ”in the last few years”.
When asked why Mr Socratous had been branch-stacking, Mr Seitz said The Sunday Age would have to ask Mr O’Connor, Mr Shorten, Mr Languiller and Mr Theophanous. He also mentioned federal Communications Minister and factional leader Stephen Conroy.
Mr Conroy, Mr Theophanous and Mr Languiller have denied knowledge of branch stacking.
Several Labor Party members contacted by The Sunday Age yesterday confirmed that Mr Socratous had often paid their membership fees. The Zafiris family of St Albans, which has four Labor Party members, said they had paid for about eight years of membership ”around 10 per cent of the time”.
One woman who had her membership paid for by Mr Socratous in Mr Shorten’s seat said: ”We were not going to renew our membership and [Mr Socratous] came round and said, ‘Don’t worry about it, we’ll pay.’ ”
Victorian ALP state secretary Nick Reece, who is investigating Mr Socratous’s claims, yesterday encouraged anyone with evidence of branch stacking to come forward.
■ Premier John Brumby will receive the Proust review into the state’s corruption fighting bodies tomorrow. The opposition has called on Mr Brumby to set up a corruption commission and immediately investigate corruption within the Labor Party.
”It is clear that this had been going on since John Brumby took over the party,” said Andrew McIntosh, shadow minister for integrity of government.