'Unethical' Vic Labor promises changes

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A damning report exposing egregious misuse of taxpayer resources within Victoria's Labor party and government has prompted an apology from the premier and a promise of change.

In a joint probe tabled in state parliament on Wednesday, the Independent Broad-based Anti-corruption Commission and Victorian Ombudsman laid bare a "catalogue of unethical and inappropriate behaviour" inside the party.

Examples ranged from bullying, hiring unqualified people into publicly funded roles and using those roles to undertake factional work, rampant nepotism, forging signatures and attempted interference with government grants.

While branch stacking was not limited to Labor's moderate faction, the watchdogs concluded former Andrews government ministers Adem Somyurek and Marlene Kairouz breached elements of the ministerial codes of conduct.

However, the pair will not face criminal prosecution as laws around the employment of parliamentary staff are "weak" and difficult to prove in court.

"Although we consider the conduct to be egregious, the difficulties in proof are such that we cannot recommend prosecution," the 233-page report said.

"Rather, it will now be a matter for the Privileges Committees of each house to decide whether the named MPs have wilfully brought discredit upon parliament."

Operation Watts was launched following allegations in a Nine Network investigation that Mr Somyurek handed over cash and used parliamentary employees to create fake branch members and amass political influence.

The practice, known as branch stacking, is not illegal but is against Labor party rules.

Mr Somyurek quit the party in June 2020 before he could be expelled following the reports, while his factional allies Robin Scott and Marlene Kairouz also departed cabinet.

Luke Donnellan became the fourth ministerial casualty in October after then-federal MP Anthony Byrne told the inquiry the pair paid for others' Labor memberships.

The report said Mr Somyurek "led from the front" in his faction's misuse of public resources, and his fully staffed office provided little or no service to constituents.

Staff were pressured to do factional work during office hours, even though it was generally understood to be "improper and unethical".

"There was compelling evidence of staff being bullied to perform this work by Mr Somyurek," the report said.

Evidence to the inquiry suggested staff and members of his faction forged ALP members' signatures on various party documents, including membership forms and ballot papers.

The report said it appeared the practice was accepted, or at least tolerated, in parts of the faction whenever required.

Along with the employment of factional allies, the watchdogs identified instances of relatives being hired by moderate-aligned MPs and in some cases as a "reward" for factional work.

It cited the employment of two of Mr Somyurek's close relatives in his electoral office, as well as another in Mr Byrne's.

The "saddest feature" of the investigation was listening to young Labor staffers discovering their only path to party success was through "unethical factional behaviour", IBAC Commissioner Robert Redlich said.

"These young people start their careers with a distorted moral compass," he told reporters.

Mr Somyurek claimed the report had exonerated him despite Ombudsman Deborah Glass saying it should not be described that way.

Within hours of the report's release, Premier Daniel Andrews confirmed his government would accept all 21 recommendations and pursue additional legislative measures to change how all parties operate.

He acknowledged the "disgraceful behaviour" outlined in the report had not lived up to community expectations.

"As leader of the party and leader of our state, I take full responsibility for that conduct. That is what the top job is about and I apologise for it," he said.

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