SUBJECTS: IBAC inquiry, Anthony Byrne, National Anti-Corruption Commission.
BEN FORDHAM, HOST: Now to Anthony Albanese. He's got a real test on his hands at the moment, the Labor Leader. Because the ALP is proud. They claim that they are corruption free, as they should be. I mean, we shouldn't have people sitting in Parliament who are corrupt who've done the wrong thing. And one of Albanese's senior federal MPs has admitted to fraudulent behaviour. During a Victorian corruption hearing, Anthony Byrne revealed this week he'd been involved in branch stacking. He personally used his own money to buy Labor memberships and grow his influence in the party. He also confessed he'd used taxpayer-funded staff to assist in the major branch stacking scheme. Now, that could be a criminal offence. But despite the confession, Anthony Albanese is refusing to act. He's on the line, the Federal Opposition Leader, Anthony Albanese. Good morning.
ANTHONY ALBANESE, LEADER OF THE AUSTRALIAN LABOR PARTY: Hey, Ben. Good morning.
FORDHAM: Why don't you just get rid of him?
ALBANESE: We have acted. We intervened. Within 24 hours, the revelations have led to this IBAC inquiry into the Victorian branch. Dismissed the entire branch, appointed Steve Bracks, Jenny Macklin, as administrators, brought in one of the big four accounting firms to do a complete independent audit of the entire Victorian membership, took over all of the preselections. And unlike the Coalition, I welcome this IBAC inquiry. The IBAC inquiry, indeed, the commissioner praised Mr Byrne for his honesty and the role that he's played in the hearings. All I have said is we'll wait while the hearings are going on. Halfway through people's testimonies, you don't reach a verdict. And we will deal with the issues when we have all of the information, that are being conducted at the moment through public hearing.
FORDHAM: One would think the only information you need is this. Have a listen to the question and the answer. This is Anthony Byrne.
RECORDING: I just wanted to ask you about whether you've had any involvement in branch stacking Mr. Byrne?
I certainly have.
FORDHAM: What more do you need to hear? You say you've dismissed the entire branch, but you haven't dismissed him?
ALBANESE: Michael Sukkar is sitting....
FORDHAM: No Albo, I'm asking you about your MP and your party that you're the leader of. Why haven't you dismissed him? He's confessed to branch stacking.
ALBANESE: Because we will deal with these issues when we have all of the information. There are further people, the hearings began on Monday and they’re coming through. And what we won't do, what we won't do, is focus on this each and every day. What we'll do is go out there, and we've been talking about our Buy Australia Plan.
FORDHAM: Albo, I mean, I'm not gonna let you all of a sudden turn this into some kind of election platform. You have got an integrity test here. You've got a bloke in your party, who you happen to be friendly with, who has confessed to being involved in a sophisticated branch stacking operation. He's also someone who sent text messages before threatening to slice someone's throat. Sack him.
ALBANESE: And the information is still coming out. And here's what is the Liberal party chair ...
FORDHAM: No, no, no, what information still needs to come out before you will say, ‘I'm not going to tolerate this in my party’?
ALBANESE: I don't tolerate it, Ben. I dismissed the entire Victorian branch.
FORDHAM: But not him.
ALBANESE: Since I've been leader of the Labor Party, let's be very clear, we've had intervention into the Victorian branch, intervention into the New South Wales branch, the expulsion of John Setka, the dismissal of all the branch stackers removed from the Victorian…
FORDHAM:So why does this guy get this special treatment? Because you've just outlined how you've been very firm on these other matters. Why does this guy get the red carpet treatment from Albo?
ALBANESE: He's not getting special treatment, Ben. There are proceedings underway with IBAC. They're independent. They're quasi-judicial proceedings. And it's important that IBAC be allowed to do its work. And compare that with the ICAC in New South Wales. That'll have the premier, a former premier, and a range of others giving evidence next week in a corruption scandal, where the response from the Coalition is to criticise ICAC. I'm doing the opposite. I want a National Anti-Corruption Commission. I want the state corruption bodies to be able to conduct their work independently.
FORDHAM: Well, just on ICAC, when Gladys Berejiklian was told she was under investigation, she booked a press conference for an hour later and said ‘I quit, it's not right for me to sit in Parliament while this is going on’. Parliament's back next week. So you're happy for Anthony Byrne to sit in Parliament, are you?
ALBANESE: Ben, are you saying…
FORDHAM: Are you happy with him to sit in Parliament?
ALBANESE: He's a Member of Parliament. That's not a decision for me.
FORDHAM: Are you happy to sit there as a Labor MP?
ALBANESE: He's a Member of Parliament. He hasn't been attending the Parliament, Ben, because of the Victorian restrictions. He hasn't been in Parliament for some time. For some time.
FORDHAM: Let me just play you Michael Sukkar. This is what you said last year about the Liberal, Michael Sukkar, who was also accused of branch stacking. He was under investigation, was later cleared. But at the time, have a listen to this.
RECORDING: Are you happy for the Department of Finance to play out this inquiry to let that go ahead? And those and the Minister involved to stay in his position while that happens, is that the right course of action?
I'm happy for Scott Morrison to be judged on his own words. If Michael Sukkar is still sitting there at two o'clock as a minister, then that's a failure of Scott Morrison's leadership.
FORDHAM: Talk about failure of leadership, Albo. Come on.
ALBANESE: Byrne isn't a Minister, mate.
FORDHAM: Who cares what he is. He's an MP in your party.
ALBANESE: He's not a Minister.
FORDHAM: What does that matter? What does that matter?
ALBANESE: Are you serious? Do you not understand what being a member of the executive (inaudible).
FORDHAM: He's being paid by the taxpayer to sit in Parliament. You're happy for him to sit there under the Labor brand, and then you've shown leadership on others. Why not this bloke? Is he your friend?
ALBANESE: And so is Michael Sukkar. This isn't about friendship, Ben. This is about an IBAC inquiry that is underway right now. Christian Porter is still sitting in the Parliament. He got personally up to a million dollars of donations, he won't say where they're from, for a private legal matter.
FORDHAM: And I've condemned that. He's still sitting in the Parliament. Well this bloke is the Deputy Chair of Parliament's Intelligence and Security Committee. I just think that you're walking a very, very fine line here. I just want you to say to someone when they confess to branch stacking, you've got to say to them, and let me finish by asking you this, have you said to him privately, ‘Listen, please, pull the pin, do me a favour, get the hell out of here’?
ALBANESE: Ben, while the inquiry is going on, I have not spoken to Anthony Byrne. Because while people are appearing before a judicial body, the idea that the political leader will ring them and have a conversation with them while they're giving evidence is entirely inappropriate. That would be entirely inappropriate. And what James Paterson has said, the chair of the committee, said this about Anthony Byrne yesterday: 'He's been a very constructive, very collaborative, very bipartisan person who's very much driven by the national interest'. That's what Senator Paterson said. Andrew Hastie, the former chair, will say exactly the same thing.
FORDHAM: He may be all those things, Albo. But he's also a branch stacker. A confessed branch stacker.
ALBANESE: And these issues will be dealt with. But they won't be dealt with while there's an inquiry going on. While literally, these processes, including the processes about Mr Byrne's evidence, you know full well Ben, that what happens when someone gives evidence is that someone else gets called and gets cross examined on the basis of that. And that is what is going on this week.
FORDHAM: I can't imagine he's gonna turn around in a few days and say, ‘Hey, listen, I changed my mind, I'm not confessing to branch stacking’. But we'll see what happens next. And I do appreciate you jumping on the line.
ALBANESE: Thanks very much, Ben. And what we need is a National, Anti-Corruption Commission. And that's something that we'll do.