The leaders of the unions, including the powerful CFMEU and the plumbers’ union, will gather in Melbourne on Tuesday to plan their next move and discuss legal advice. Some unionists have warned the federal intervention sought by Mr Andrews could be hit with a court challenge if a compromise cannot be found.
One union official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said there was a real determination among the labour movement to keep the key decisions about the future of the state branch and the selection of state and federal electoral candidates in Victorian hands.
“It either gets sorted out in Victoria or it goes to court,” the union leader told The Age.
But not all the unions involved in Tuesday’s meeting will support legal action. One Right-aligned union told The Age that it had no interest in pursuing the matter in the courts.
The government said on Friday that unions were free to take whatever actions they wished but the plan to clean up the party was very popular with Labor’s rank-and-file.
Three union sources who spoke on the condition of anonymity said the bloc comprised 10 to 12 unions, representing about two-thirds of the party’s membership.
IBAC commissioner Robert Redlich, whose staff visited the home of sacked minister Adem Somyurek on Tuesday, said he and the Ombudsman would take a co-ordinated approach to their investigation of the explosive allegations against Mr Somyurek revealed by The Age and 60 Minutes on Sunday and to other complaints and information IBAC had received.
The two corruption-fighting agencies say the joint effort would allow more resources to be thrown at getting to the bottom of what is alleged to be an industrial-scale operation to control Labor Party branches by Mr Somyurek, including the misuse of taxpayer funds.
Mr Somyurek denies the allegations.
Premier Daniel Andrews referred the scandal to IBAC on Monday. This was followed on Wednesday by a Liberal Party-instigated referral to the Ombudsman by the State Parliament.
Commissioner Redlich said the probe would be a priority for his agency.
“The conduct of a thorough and efficient investigation is a shared priority for IBAC and the Ombudsman in response to significant public concern about the potential misuse of scarce public resources and the subversion of appropriate parliamentary standards and processes,” he said.
Victorian Ombudsman Deborah Glass said the investigation would focus on whether public money was used for Labor Party political purposes.
“What Victorians need from us is an independent investigation. Together with IBAC, we will examine these allegations including whether, and if so to what extent, public funds were misused for party-political purposes,” she said.
The two agencies said there was no telling how long their joint operation would last, and the duration of the investigation would depend on what evidence was uncovered.
The unions say they are wholly supportive of cleaning up Victorian Labor, but would not accept party figures from NSW and other states choosing the candidates to contest elections for the Victorian ALP.
There is also anger in the movement with unions complaining they are being punished for the bad behaviour of Labor’s factions.
Transport Infrastructure Minister Jacinta Allan said the intervention initiated by the Premier was very popular with Labor’s rank-and-file members and that unions would make their own decisions about legal action.
“That’s a matter for them, a matter for the parties that are considering this,” Ms Allan said.
“The Premier … has taken the strongest action we’ve seen from a Labor leader for many decades.
“He’s taken these strong and positive actions on behalf of the party to give back a strong voice to rank-and-file members and I know that rank-and-file members really appreciate the action the Premier has taken.”
Noel Towell is State Political Editor for The Age