Secret recordings have linked a minister in Scott Morrison’s government to branch-stacking allegations in the Liberal Party.
Assistant Treasurer and Housing Minister Michael Sukkar and former Defence Minister Kevin Andrews have both been accused of using taxpayer-funded electorate office staff in Melbourne to recruit party members for their socially-conservative faction.
The right-wing federal Liberal MPs are alleged to have brought religious recruits into branches in a bid to push out sitting moderates in Parliament who supported gay marriage and euthanasia, secret recordings on 60 Minutes revealed.
Mr Sukkar released a statement last night denying he had any knowledge of the allegations raised in a joint investigation by the Nine Network and The Age newspaper.
‘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,’ he said.
The 38-year-old minister has also asked the Department of Finance to ‘undertake an independent review of the staffing arrangements’ in his Deakin electorate office, in Melbourne’s south-east, since he won the seat off Labor in 2013.
Mr Andrews, the longest-serving MP in federal Parliament, declined an interview with Nine.
The Catholic conservative backbencher and family morals campaigner, who has been the Member for Menzies since a 1991 by-election, tweeted the allegations on 60 Minutes were ‘false’ and also asked the Department of Finance to investigate staffing arrangements in his Melbourne electorate office.
‘During that time I have dedicated myself to representing my community and serving my country,’ he said.
‘As “Father of the House” my integrity and my reputation mean everything.’
The Nine report cited secret recordings and text message transcripts dating back to 2016, many allegedly involving 30-year-old right-wing Liberal party powerbroker Marcus Bastiaan, who also manufactures doors.
‘Who gives a s***? We are trying to win a f***ing seat, mate,’ he said.
Mr Sukkar was secretly recorded as endorsing Mr Bastiaan, a former vice-president of the Liberal Party in Victoria.
‘Marcus is an important piece of the team,’ he said.
‘A very important piece of the team.’
Mr Sukkar was also recorded as disparaging Liberal Party members concerned about branch stacking.
‘The same people that talk about branch stacking b**ch and moan to me that they couldn’t get people on their booths during the campaign,’ he said.
The leaked recordings and text messages revealed plans to undermine former prime minister Malcolm Turnbull, a moderate, by removing up to six federal Liberal MPs, including gay marriage supporters Tim Wilson and former industrial relations minister Kelly O’Dwyer.
State MPs who backed Victoria’s controversial voluntary euthanasia legislation were also targeted.
The alleged scheme by an ultra-conservative Victorian faction involved the recruitment of new members by targeting community and religious groups, including the Mormons, using taxpayer-funded electorate staff.
The Victorian Liberals responded by promising to investigate the allegations.
‘The party will be seeking full and detailed responses from party members who were named in the 60 Minutes report or who may be able to provide further information on relevant matters,’ it said.
‘The party will decide urgently on immediate actions to be taken and will determine further measures having regard to the responses received and the findings of any further investigations.’
Following the 60 Minutes allegations, Mr Bastiaan resigned from the Liberal Party.
Mr Andrews denied he had been forced to use his electorate office for branch stacking purposes.
‘The suggestion that I would be coerced into making decisions on staffing arrangements in my electorate office by others is untrue,’ he said.
‘I have referred staffing matters raised in the 60 minutes program to the Secretary of the Department of Finance to be independently reviewed.’
Prime Minister Scott Morrison has so far declined to authorise federal intervention into the Victorian branch of the Liberal Party.
The allegations follow damning branch-stacking revelations which shook Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews’ Labor party in June and saw right-faction cabinet minister Adem Somyurek expelled from the ALP.
Senior federal Labor frontbencher Penny Wong called on Mr Morrison to sack Mr Sukkar as a minister.
‘The revelations on television last night were deeply concerning,’ she said.
‘They were appalling. They were shocking.’
Senator Wong pointed out Labor had launched federal intervention into its Victorian branch following another 60 Minutes story about Mr Somyurek being secretly recorded, and argued the same thing needed to happen with the Liberal Party in Victoria.
‘This is a test for Scott Morrison. This is a test for him to stamp out the corruption in the Victorian branch,’ she said.
‘And if he fails to do so it will speak volumes about his leadership, or lack of it.
‘It’s a test for Scott Morrison as Prime Minister of the day.’
Health Minister Greg Hunt, who in August 2018 supported right-wing Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton’s bid for the Liberal leadership, backed Mr Sukkar and Kevin Andrews.
‘They both have my full support, they really do,’ he told Sydney radio 2GB.