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Branch stacking claims were news to me: Albanese

Politics

Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese says he did not know about branch-stacking allegations against a senior Labor MP until they were aired at a Victorian corruption inquiry.

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Holt MP Anthony Byrne faces further scrutiny after he admitted to the Independent Broad-based Anti-corruption Commission that he had engaged in branch stacking, paying for ALP memberships on behalf of others and used taxpayer-funded parliamentary staff to create fake branch members.

The revelations came on the first day of five weeks of scheduled hearings into branch stacking claims in Victorian Labor, which also led to the resignation of state cabinet member Luke Donnellan.

Mr Albanese told reporters in Sydney that Monday was the first time he was made aware of the allegations, but would not be drawn on whether Mr Byrne needed to resign.

“I didn’t follow, I must say, every word that was done there, but clearly if there are any improper practices, they are improper,” he said.

“We will allow IBAC to take their course. It’s not appropriate to pre-empt their findings and those processes.”

The revelations have prompted some senior members of the federal government to call for Byrne to step down.

Federal minister Alan Tudge described what had occurred as a “systematic abuse of Commonwealth funds”.

“What will he do about Anthony Byrne? What will he do about the staff who have been involved … he (Albanese) needs to take strong action,” Mr Tudge told Sky News.

“It is rotten to the core in the Labor Party here in Victoria.”

The IBAC inquiry has prompted renewed calls from Albanese for a federal anti-corruption body.

“I want a serious national anti-corruption commission which will be able to hold public hearings and which will be able to make its own inquiries,” he said.

“I’m not critical of the IBAC processes, I support them. I support them and I support stamping out corruption wherever it is found.”

Labor’s national office took over the running of the Victorian branch last year after news of branch stacking within state Labor emerged.

The national office has since then overseen the administration of the party and preselections in Victoria.

Victoria will be a key battleground for Labor as it seeks to unseat the Morrison government at a federal election due by May 2022.

The IBAC inquiry continues.

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