But Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese said Mr Sukkar’s position was “untenable” and said his removal as minister was a test of Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s authority. A statement from Mr Morrison’s office on Sunday said the allegations were an organisational matter for the Victorian branch of the party.
“If Michael Sukkar is still sitting there at 2 o’clock as a minister, then that’s a failure of Scott Morrison’s leadership,” Mr Albanese said on ABC’s Radio National.
“This is in their own words. Recorded conversations, memos that Michael Sukkar has responded to and endorsed.
“This is a test for Scott Morrison. This is the test he himself set when there were allegations into Victoria[n] [Labor] … [when] a minister [Adem Somyurek] was gone by the morning, a minister was expelled from the Labor party.
“Now, once again, a bit like aged care, he’s saying it’s not his responsibility, it’s a matter for the organisational wing. Well someone needs to tell Scott Morrison that he’s actually in charge of the Liberal Party, that this is a scandal [and] his assistant treasurer is in it up to his neck and his position is untenable.”
In a statement issued on Sunday, the party’s Victorian state director, Sam McQuestin, said he would request “full and detailed” responses from the Liberal figures.
“The Liberal Party takes the integrity of its membership very seriously,” he said.
“The party will decide urgently on immediate actions to be taken and will determine further measures having regard to the responses received and the findings of any further investigations.”
Late on Sunday night, the two politicians rejected the allegations and said they would ask the department responsible for politicians’ staff to review whether funds were misused.
Mr Sukkar rejected the allegations and said he had never directed his staff to undertake party political activities. “Every member of my team has been directed to, and expected to, obey all applicable parliamentary policies and guidelines and workplace laws,” he said in a statement.
“I cannot speak to the operations of other electorate offices.”
Mr Andrews said “the suggestion that I would be coerced into making decisions on staffing arrangements in my electorate office by others is untrue.”
“Tonight’s 60 Minutes program made a number of allegations which are false,” Mr Andrews said in a tweet. “As ‘Father of the House’ my integrity and my reputation mean everything.”
Treasurer backs Sukkar
Mr Frydenberg said he had “real concern” about the allegations against his Victorian colleagues. He said he supported Mr Sukkar to remain in his position as the department conducted its investigation.
“He certainly has my support … He’s rejected those allegations,” Mr Frydenberg said. “As my assistant treasurer, he’s done a very good job.”
“I’ve subsequently spoken to the president of the Victorian division [Robert Clarke], the state director as well as the leader of the opposition [Michael O’Brien], and the Liberal Party will now deal with the matters internally.”
Finance Minister Matthias Cormann said the Victorian Liberal Party was in the best position to assess the potential wrongdoing and “deal with it”.
“When allegations are made … then in the first instance the department investigates independent of government. That’s what I would expect to happen,” he told ABC’s Radio National.
“If there are allegations of inappropriate use of taxpayer resources then that ought to be investigated.”
Former MP says Bastiaan threatened him over euthanasia vote
Former Victorian MP Simon Ramsey said Mr Bastiaan threatened to end his political career if he did not vote against the Victorian government’s assisted dying laws in 2017.
In a leaked recording published by this masthead, Mr Sukkar outlined a plan to remove or shift four Victorian MPs, including Mr Ramsey, who voted for assisted dying laws.
Speaking on ABC radio on Monday, Mr Ramsey said Mr Bastiaan pressured him to vote down the Andrews government bill which passed the upper house by 22 votes to 18.
“During the debate, the vote was getting very close. I received a call from Marcus Bastiaan saying he would prefer my vote to vote against the bill and that if I didn’t, there would be repercussions for my endorsement,” he said.
“I told him in no uncertain terms that I will not be threatened or cajoled by someone of his ilk.
“We didn’t have further calls but I had other calls from other people, who I’m not going to name, who encouraged me to oppose the legislation and … suggested my political career would be over if I didn’t toe the line.”
Mr Ramsey said Mr Bastiaan’s heavy recruitment of members in the lead-up to the 2018 election caused instability that inhibited the party from running a component campaign to defeat Premier Daniel Andrews. He partly blamed former president Michael Kroger for forming an alliance with Mr Bastiaan.
“There’s been a push to push the party to the right over a number of years. I’m just so disappointed that people who were respected as leaders of the party were sucked in by the young Turks coming through the ranks to increase membership,” he said.
Paul is a reporter for The Age.
Nick McKenzie is an investigative reporter for The Age. He’s won nine Walkley awards and covers politics, business, foreign affairs and defence, human rights issues, the criminal justice system and social affairs.