IBAC hearings LIVE updates: Banyule Mayor Rick Garotti gives evidence to Watts inquiry
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Watch Live: IBAC hearings video stream and background to hearings

These public hearings are part of an inquiry called Operation Watts into allegations of corrupt conduct involving Victorian public officers, including members of Parliament.

It’s being run jointly by the Victorian Independent Broad-based Anti-corruption Commission and the Victorian Ombudsman and Its remit includes allegations of branch stacking in the Victorian Labor Party, as first revealed in an investigation by The Age and 60 Minutes last year.

Branch stacking is an organised method of accumulating internal power in a party by recruiting, and usually paying the fees for, new members.

But it’s much more pointed than just that. The real question is whether public officers, including Victorian Members of Parliament, are engaging in corrupt conduct by directing ministerial or electorate office staff to perform party‐political work when they should instead be doing ministerial or electorate work.

It will also look at whether public money given by the Victorian government as grants to community associations, has been redirected and misused to fund party‐political activities, or for any other improper purposes. It will ask if ministers or others involved in granting the funds have “dishonestly performed their functions” or “knowingly or recklessly breached public trust”.

The inquiry will look into whether any public officer, their families or their associates, received a personal benefit from these things, and looks at what systems and controls are in place to monitor these money flows.

The hearing is expected to go for at least four weeks. It’s overseen by IBAC Commissioner Robert Redlich, QC, and run by counsel assisting Chris Carr, SC.

More about councillor Garotti

Cr Garotti is now giving evidence and is expected to take up today and tomorrow.

As Sumeyya Ilanbey reported this morning, Cr Garotti was secretary for the ALP’s Heidelberg branch, which was at the centre of a 2018 ABC probe that uncovered allegations of branch stacking.

The ABC reported Heidelberg was the biggest Labor Party branch in Victoria, with a membership list that ballooned from 13 to 325. It’s also reported at least 24 members did not live where records said they did.

Cr Garotti is from former minister Adem Somyurek’s Moderate Labor faction that the IBAC investigation centres around.

Background on the inquiry so far

State reporter Sumeyya Ilanbey followed last week’s hearings closely and wrote an excellent feature on it over the weekend.

Here’s a taste of the top of that story: By late 2019, Labor politician Adem Somyurek had built a huge political empire, declared war on his rivals, threatened the careers of other parliamentarians and silenced his enemies as he seized control of large sections of the Victorian party and became a factional powerbroker of unrivalled influence.

But the picture that started emerging from an unprecedented inquiry before the Independent Broad-based Anti-corruption Commission this week was of a man who, behind the “f— the Premier” and “I’ll be running the joint” bravado captured on secret recordings last year, was growing paranoid, increasingly agitated and afraid things were already slipping through his fingers. According to evidence, Somyurek had begun recruiting inexperienced ministerial staff into an intense branch-stacking operation, hired people who would not turn up to work, and verbally abused those in his inner circle.

You can read the full story here.

Welcome to our live coverage

Hello and welcome to our live coverage of Victoria’s Independent Broad-based Corruption Commission (IBAC) inquiry into allegations of serious corrupt conduct involving Victorian public officers, including Members of Parliament.

Today, as Sumeyya Ilanbey reports, the mayor of a council in Melbourne’s north-east and a respected community elder will be questioned at public anti-corruption commission hearings this week as part of a major Labor Party branch stacking investigation.

Banyule Mayor Rick Garotti – who quit the party earlier this year after being referred to the party’s internal disputes tribunal for alleged branch stacking activities – will be the fourth witness to appear before the Independent Broad-based Anti-corruption Commission, which is investigating the misuse of taxpayer-funded staff and grants for factional activities.

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