One of his colleagues, if not more than one, decided Somyurek had become too powerful and leaked a series of video and audio tapes of him discussing his “industrial-scale” branch stacking, with bonus character assessments of his Labor colleagues, both state and federal.
The power of arithmetic is the first law of politics. The second is the iron rule that intra-party enmities are far more bitter than those you nurse for your actual political opponents. And so it was with Somyurek, who is heard boasting about the MPs he controls and his ability to “kill” off those he thinks have worn out their welcome.
“F— the Premier [Daniel Andrews],” he says at one point. The Victorian Minister for Women, Gabrielle Williams, is a “f—ing stupid bitch … a stupid, stupid moll … I’m going to f—ing knock her f—ing head off”.
One text message asked “Who is going to protect Albo?”, as though the Opposition Leader was a fluffy bunny in a yard of Alsatians.
Somyurek’s contempt for his colleagues complements his contempt for basic principles of grassroots democracy – he is also caught on tape handing over wads of cash to pay for memberships as part of his branch-stacking super-industry.
The allegation is that as many as 4000 of the ALP’s 16,000 Victorian members are his plants. Perhaps there is no direct line of causation from this startling statistic to Labor’s failure to land an outright federal election victory in 13 years. But it is probably safe to say that the two aren’t unrelated.
If this is what Labor politicians are getting up to in a state where they are in power, god knows how they fill their time when they don’t have any ostensible governing to be getting on with.
Actually, we do know – we only have to look north to NSW, where Labor party boss Kaila Murnain stepped down last year over her knowledge of a potentially illegal $100,000 donation from a Chinese billionaire with links to his country’s ruling Communist Party.
How much of this will leach up the National Highway to Canberra, to damage Anthony Albanese and his federal colleagues? Since the original tapes of Somyurek were leaked, the whole show has become incontinent. Text messages sent by Byrne, the suspected source of leaks against Somyurek, have been supplied to the media by an unseen hand.
Byrne calls left-wing colleagues “f—ing useless”. One colleague is referred to as “the drunk” who is “dribbling shit”. Yet another is a “ratf—er”.
No punter is naive enough to think this sort of thing only goes on in Labor politics, although Labor does seem to have elevated it to an art form. Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s own preselection for his seat of Cook was controversial, to put it mildly. Morrison only won it after the original victor, Michael Towke, withdrew following the publication of reputation-damaging articles about him in News Corp papers.
Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton (a fellow security and China hawk) defended Byrne on Friday. “If you can say hand-on-heart … that you haven’t used bad language in private, good luck to you but that’s not the reality for most adult Australians,” Dutton said.
It was a valiant effort to normalise the behaviour, in which Dutton has personal form – in 2016, he accidentally sent journalist Samantha Maiden a text calling her a “mad f—ing witch”; it was intended to be sent to a colleague.
Newsrooms are not known for their purity on such matters but I don’t believe “most adult Australians” speak about their colleagues this way. It is further proof, if it were needed, that politicians are a different species to the rest of us.
The upshot for Albanese is that a huge hole has been punched in his party’s national Right faction. As a man of the Left, this might be beneficial for him, as is the opportunity to look like he is smartening up the party by clearing out practitioners of these dark arts, just as he booted union boss John Setka.
But, as one Labor MP observed, the scandal will create a vacuum in the Right, and it’s hard to tell what that will do in terms of the factional balance of the party.
Meanwhile, there is the Eden-Monaro byelection to contest on July 4.
Most voters probably bake in the assumption that all politicians are up to dirty tricks within their own parties. But it is Labor who has suffered the brand damage, and the conclusion forms that the more they engage in this sort of House of Cards/Monty Python emulation, the less likely they are to win elections.
Jacqueline Maley is a senior journalist, columnist and former Canberra press gallery sketch writer for The Sydney Morning Herald. In 2017 she won the Peter Ruehl Award for Outstanding Columnist at the Kennedy Awards