Ms Kairouz resigned from cabinet last year after The Age and 60 Minutes revealed she, Mr Somyurek and assistant treasurer Robin Scott were allegedly involved in the largest branch-stacking scandal to engulf the ALP.
Yet Kairouz’s troubles are far from over. What happened at that March meeting threatens to end a 23-year political career that included stints as a Darebin councillor in Melbourne’s north, an official at the Shop, Distributive and Allied Employees Association – a huge force in Labor’s Right faction – and peaked with her elevation to cabinet in June 2016.
When the former medical laboratory scientist entered Parliament in 2008, she spoke of a commitment to social justice born of values instilled by her Lebanese migrant parents. She also described the battle she’d waged navigating the ALP’s byzantine internal processes to win her seat: “As it turned out, I managed to win in five different ALP processes” during a “highly emotional and competitive period”. It is those same processes she is now accused of exploiting for her faction’s benefit.
Victorian Labor Party administrators Steve Bracks and Jenny Macklin have charged her under party rules with a string of branch-stacking offences and referred her to the party’s internal disputes tribunal on the basis of what she said in the March 10 meeting with Somyurek and a small number of factional operatives, who also held jobs as taxpayer-funded parliamentary staffers.
Kairouz has rejected the accusations brought by Bracks and Macklin and denies she has been involved in, or has promoted, branch stacking – a process which involves recruiting non-genuine members in order to rig votes for preselection and ALP positions.
“I have never stacked in my life,” she recently said in a public statement.
She also claimed in her statement she had not been invited to the Somyurek-led meeting and, instead, “saw the meeting in progress and popped my head in to say hello”.
“I was then invited to sit in on the meeting, which I did for a short time.”
In contrast to Somyurek – who was filmed and recorded using his own cash to pay fees for phoney ALP members – there is no evidence or suggestion that Kairouz used her own money to pay for another member.
However, a lawfully recorded tape of the meeting – which has not before been made public – suggests Kairouz was embedded in Somyurek’s membership expansion operation and also knew it may be in breach of ALP rules that ban recruiting non-genuine members to amass political power. It also debunks Kairouz’s claim that she popped in for a “short time”. The recording reveals Kairouz sat in the meeting for 32 minutes, offering suggestions and enthusiastic endorsement of Somyurek’s plans.
After Kairouz took her seat in the conference room, Somyurek told her that he had instructed the party operatives who were there to begin recruiting members in Labor branches controlled by rival ALP factions in order to take them over. Somyurek’s endgame was creating an army of delegates who could cast votes at the ALP state and national conferences and forums in which safe seats or plum party positions were handed out to candidates.
Kairouz endorses this recruitment drive, responding “We’re gunna find people, yeah.”
Somyurek then tells Kairouz that his plan is to ensure her chief of staff, Michael De Bruyn, would not have to do so much of the paperwork required to sign up new members because more junior operatives will do so.
De Bruyn was not at the meeting and has not been charged following the Labor Party investigation.
“So you don’t continue to get pissed off with me having Michael drawn away when he needs to be doing your work,” says Somyurek.
Kairouz endorses this suggestion, before stating that her office has already been helping renew ALP members.
“My office has done this already, and they’re doing it as part of renewals,” she says.
Kairouz also impresses on the factional operatives in the room that she is part of Somyurek’s membership expansion drive.
“We’re one big operation,” she says. She also advises them on how to counter efforts by Labor’s Left – partly led by party staffer and factional convener Matt Hilakari – to expel suspected fake members by scrutinising membership forms for anomalies.
“Hilakari, he speaks with such authority but he spins shit. Spinning shit last week about going through all our forms and I said to Michael [De Bruyn] let him do it because he’s got 2500 of our members that he has to go through. And … if they drop one, we’ll put in 10.”
Kairouz remains in the meeting as Somyurek issues orders to his operatives to manage various membership clusters across Melbourne. It seems clear Somyurek is describing a branch-stacking operation.
For instance, Somyurek describes how “our people are putting industrial-scale numbers, f—ing masses, for a year”.
In another seemingly clear indicator of branch stacking, he goes on to say how his operatives “have been putting thirteens”, a reference to the maximum number of new members that can be added to a branch in a single go.
Kairouz responds to Somyurek’s spiel about his statewide “lay of the land” enthusiastically.
“We’re doing well,” she says.
As Somyurek dictates orders, Kairouz occasionally interjects with a suggestion about whether a certain operative is better placed than another to gather members.
She also tells the meeting she has certain branches under control – “Oh mate, we’re fine” – and encourages Somyurek’s operatives to liaise with her own or give “a little bit of support” to other branches.
Kairouz has in her recent public statement denied the allegation – currently being investigated by anti-corruption commission IBAC – that she was was using taxpayer-funded office staff to sign up party members. She has stressed that her staff members only engaged in such activity in their own time. In the meeting with Somyurek, Kairouz doesn’t draw that distinction, saying only that signing up or renewing members is labour intensive.
“My office is starting … doing their renewals. Done. But that takes … and last time … we were doing it for everybody and my staff were just working on that because it was rushing. It was terrible.”
Kairouz’s other key defence appears to involve labelling her accusers as racist hypocrites because she has been accused of conduct men in the party have gotten away with. “It is interesting that white Anglo-Saxon men who have engaged in branch stacking to get into Parliament are not being investigated,” she said in her recent statement.
This appears to be an attack of Daniel Andrews. In a speech to the upper house in December last year, Somyurek used parliamentary privilege to accuse the Premier of branch-stacking activity in the 1990s in Melbourne’s south-east. “Andrews was stacking for the local [Socialist Left] aligned local member,” Somyurek said. Whatever the truth of the historical allegations involving Andrews, there is no tape recording of him discussing branch stacking.
Kairouz’s biggest issue in rebutting the case put by Bracks and Macklin is that her own tape-recorded words don’t accord with her protestations of innocence.
For instance, in her written statement rejecting the branch-stacking claims, Kairouz suggests it makes no sense for elected MPs to bother stacking on the basis that they have already won their seat. But in the meeting with Somyurek, Kairouz appears to relish the power delivered by her faction’s growing membership numbers.
“We are it. They don’t do anything without us,” she says of some of her Labor colleagues.
“We’re very big, but if we can continue to grow, well, why not?”
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Nick McKenzie is an investigative reporter who has twice been named Australian Journalist of the Year. A winner of ten Walkley Awards, he investigates politics, business, foreign affairs/defence, human rights issues and policing/ criminal justice.
Sumeyya is a state political reporter for The Age.