Covert footage filmed in Mr Byrne’s outer suburban office formed a central part of an Age and 60 Minutes investigation, which revealed the former Andrews government powerbroker Mr Somyurek threatened to end the careers of several federal MPs, while also claiming to be “protecting” Mr Byrne.
In a statement on Wednesday night, Mr Byrne said: “Somyurek has selectively released a handpicked selection of my text messages to him sent over two years just hours after I made a public statement that I had contacted authorities and would assist with their corruption investigations into him. That speaks for itself.”
In other text messages, Mr Byrne discusses recruiting various ethnic groups as ALP members and complained about a political rival’s branch stacking with Afghan community members.
Mr Byrne is likely to be the target of political retribution because he is being blamed by some of Mr Somyurek’s factional allies for the “sting” that has ended the former small business minister’s career. Mr Byrne and Mr Somyurek were long-time political allies, however, their relationship had become strained during the past six months.
Mr Byrne’s comments about Mr Dastyari centred on his exit from Parliament over his dealings with a Chinese businessman. The former NSW senator, who resigned over his dealing with a Chinese businessman, appeared in the 60 Minutes episode on Sunday night criticising Mr Somyurek.
Mr Griffin on Wednesday night laughed when told of Mr Byrne’s text message, saying: “We have said a lot of things to each other over the years and we have never, ever meant it.”
Mr Byrne earlier told The Age there was “misinformation circulating” about his role in the investigation, which had triggered Victoria Police and Independent Broad-based Anti-corruption Commission investigations.
“I want to make clear that I take the matters raised recently seriously and have been in touch with authorities to offer my full assistance,” Mr Byrne said. “I welcome investigations into corruption, which has no place in the party I love.
“Because I do not want to cross over or impede any investigations that may be occurring, I’m unable to comment further at this point in time.”
Sources familiar with the investigation told The Age that Mr Byrne did not appear in any of the video recordings, nor were there any discussions relating to national security or any parliamentary committees.
Labor leader Anthony Albanese, who was targeted by the Morrison government in Parliament on Wednesday, would not comment on the text messages on Wednesday night.
Mr Albanese told Melbourne radio 3AW on Wednesday that he had not spoken with Mr Byrne because if there was an active or previous investigation by the Independent Broad-based Anti-corruption Commission “you can’t talk about it”.
“You can’t give answers to those questions,” Mr Albanese said.
Attorney-General Christian Porter told Federal Parliament it was “quite remarkable” that Mr Albanese said he had not realised the 60 Minutes footage had “both the map for the federal electoral division of Holt” and an “election poster with the member’s name on it”.
Parliamentary intelligence committee chair Andrew Hastie said Mr Albanese “should at least do a welfare check” on Mr Byrne. Asked whether Mr Byrne would need to step down from the committee, Mr Hastie said it was a matter for Mr Albanese but he backed his deputy’s work on the committee.
“The fact that he hasn’t even spoken to him yet indicates that I can’t foresee a situation where Anthony Byrne would be stepping down (from the committee) any time soon,” Mr Hastie told Sky News.
“I can speak to his (Mr Byrne’s) character – over the last few years he has been a great servant of our country in the committee”.
Rob Harris is the National Affairs Editor for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age, based at Parliament House in Canberra