Anthony Albanese yet to refer Anthony Byrne for misuse of taxpayer dollars
Anthony Albanese has refused to commit to referring embattled MP Anthony Byrne for investigation over confirmation he misused taxpayer funds.
Key crossbenchers have called on the Opposition Leader to pull the trigger and refer the backbencher’s behaviour to the Finance Department for review.
Mr Byrne on Monday at a Victorian anti-corruption watchdog hearing confessed to using commonwealth funds to hire two staff members who did not show up to work and instead performed factional duties. He also admitted to participating in branch stacking.
While branch stacking is not illegal, it is a violation of party rules and staff receiving public salaries are not permitted to do party political work.
But four days after the explosive revelations were laid bare, Mr Albanese is yet to refer the transgression to the department. His office has refused to say whether he would take this step.
Speaking to NCA NewsWire, outspoken senator Jacqui Lambie acknowledged while referring the matter to the department did not go far enough, it was the only mechanism available to Mr Albanese for further investigation at a federal level.
“The Department of Finance reviewing this stuff is like fairy floss on a stick — just a tick and flick when things get sticky. I wouldn‘t be starting or ending there,” Ms Lambie said.
“That said, it’s in Mr Albanese’s interests to turn over every stone and figure out what’s gone on here.
“These things have a way of coming back to bite, one way or another.”
The Victorian Independent Broad-based Anti-corruption Commission is investigating allegations of the misuse of public funds in state Labor.
But Mr Bynes’ stunning admission on Monday has raised concerns about the use of commonwealth funds to perform party political work.
The Department of Finance is able to investigate claims of misappropriation of funds and it is possible for Mr Albanese to ask that an investigation take place – despite protests from his office that it was not possible.
Asked if the department was investigating the matter already, a spokesperson said: “The department does not comment on individual parliamentarians or their staff.”
It’s understood the government will not step in and refer the matter.
South Australian senator Rex Patrick said it was disturbing that Mr Albanese had not yet referred the claims made at IBAC.
“When a prima facie case emerges of misuse of public funds, irrespective of who is alleged to have engaged in that misuse, it should be properly investigated,” the senator told NCA NewsWire.
“A referral for investigation is even more important when it involves a politician, as the public have a right to full confidence in their representatives.
“It would disturb me if Mr Albanese took a different view. The decision time for him to make a referral in these circumstances should be less than a millisecond.”
Mr Albanese has been outspoken in recent days about how the revelations only further highlighted the need for a federal anti-corruption commission.
But when asked if he would refer the evidence presented by Mr Byrne to the department for further investigation, a spokesperson declined to comment.
Instead, NCA NewsWire was referred to a transcript of a press conference held on Wednesday.
“Look, the IBAC processes are under way and it is important that they be allowed to take place independent of political interference,” Mr Albanese told reporters in Sydney.
Mr Albanese on Thursday said a decision on Mr Byrne’s political future would not be made until the IBAC hearings were complete.
When the allegations of branch stacking first came to light last June, Mr Albanese backed a national executive takeover of the Victorian branch. He also supported the removal of powerbroker Adem Somyurek from the party.
A Finance Department investigation last year cleared Liberals Michael Sukkar and Kevin Andrew of wrongdoing after accusations they had misused their taxpayer-funded staff for political purposes.
Mr Byrne was contacted for comment but did not respond. However, he told The Australian on Thursday he would be staying put until IBAC reported its findings.
Originally published as Anthony Albanese yet to refer Anthony Byrne for misuse of taxpayer dollars
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