Documents filed in the Federal Court allege Federal Liberal MP and Assistant Treasurer Michael Sukkar was involved in a scheme placing factional operatives into taxpayer funded electorate office jobs to carry out internal Liberal Party work in Victoria in a possible breach of staff rules.
- The allegations of branch stacking by Mr Sukkar are outlined in documents filed in the Federal Court on Friday
- The documents were filed as part of defamation proceedings brought by former Liberal factional figure Marcus Bastiaan
- Mr Sukkar’s office did not respond to request for comment on Sunday
Former Liberal factional figure and ally of Mr Sukkar, Marcus Bastiaan, is suing the Nine Network and its newspapers for defamation after a 60 Minutes exposé alleged Mr Bastiaan was part of a Liberal branch stacking operation in Victoria.
Nine’s defence, filed in the Federal Court on Friday and seen by the ABC, alleges Mr Sukkar oversaw a scheme where taxpayer-funded staff in electorate offices were used for factional work.
The same allegations were aired on 60 Minutes on Sunday night and have previously been made by Nine Network newspapers and the current affairs program.
Under parliament’s rules, electorate office staff are not meant to do party political work — they are employed to assist an MP to carry out their duties.
The defence claims the scheme involved the “blatant abuse” of the rules governing electorate officers.
Questions about role of MP’s brother among allegations
The defence documents claim Mr Sukkar, who holds the seat of Deakin in Melbourne’s east, oversaw the scheme that placed factional allies, including his brother, in the office of fellow Liberal MP Kevin Andrews’ Menzies electorate office for the same purpose.
There is no suggestion that Michael Sukkar, his brother Paul Sukkar, Marcus Bastiaan, Josh Bonney or Kevin Andrews acted illegally.
The defence cites a document outlining the roles and responsibilities for Mr Sukkar’s brother to perform in Mr Andrews office, which included party recruitment.
A Liberal Party-ordered audit of the branch membership by KordaMentha uncovered membership irregularities.
The Victorian anti-corruption watchdog IBAC is in the process of probing similar allegations of the misuse of staff by Labor state MPs, but there is currently no federal integrity body.
Mr Bastiaan resigned his membership in August last year following the publication of crude and racist text messages, but he denied he was a branch stacker.
“In or about June 2017, the applicant [Mr Bastiaan], Michael Sukkar and Josh Bonney (a member of the secretariat and an electorate officer in Michael Sukkar’s Deakin electorate office) formed an agreement to install members of the secretariat as electorate officers in the Menzies electorate office of Kevin Andrews, ostensibly to perform the work of electorate officers, but who would instead predominantly perform party-political work for the scheme (agreement),” the defence document alleges.
“The agreement was oral and was formed in numerous conversations between the applicant, Michael Sukkar and Bonney in or about June 2017.”
The document alleges Mr Sukkar’s office was used to create advertising material for a Liberal Party preselection fight for the state seat of Narracan where Mr Bastiaan’s partner, now wife, Stephanie was seeking to defeat incumbent Gary Blackwood.
Mr Bonney is alleged to have done this work while working in Mr Sukkar’s electorate office. One of Mr Sukkar’s friends was also employed as a graphic designer to make the flyers, the documents allege.
Mr Sukkar’s office did not respond to request for comment on Sunday.
When these allegations were first raised by 60 Minutes last year, both Mr Sukkar and Mr Andrews requested the finance department investigate.
In October last year, the department cleared both MPs of any wrongdoing.
The document makes no allegations against Mr Andrews. He said the independent investigation set up by the Department of Finance found nothing adverse or improper.
“Employees worked to support my Parliamentary and/or electorate duties,” Mr Andrews said.