Red Shirts investigation must be reopened in Victoria

The investigation into Victorian Labor’s red shirts rort must be reopened as the Andrews Government continues to show its disdain for due process, writes Victorian Shadow Attorney-General Matthew Bach.

I’ve got a bone to pick with Spotify, and it’s got nothing to do with Joe Rogan.

My wife and I were playing around with playlists the other night and found a great French jazz collection – not normally our thing, but we were having people over for dinner and wanted to look cultured.

Now Spotify keeps recommending early 20th century French salon music.

I was out jogging yesterday and it started playing a 1926 song called “C’est Une Chemise Rose” (“It’s a pink shirt”). While it’s a catchy ditty, pink is far too close to red to allow me to enjoy a song like that.

According to Max Roge, the singer, “the only thing that makes us forget our torments is a pink shirt”.

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Well, years later the Red Shirts rort continues to torment Victorians.

And new revelations published in the Herald Sun only strengthen the case – long advocated by the Liberal and National Parties – for further investigations to be carried out into the affair.

Under the scheme, which Victoria’s Ombudsman – the independent umpire – categorically called “wrong”, taxpayer-funded staff supposed to be supporting Labor Members of Parliament in their work in the community were redirected to campaign for the ALP. In all, $388,000 of your money was siphoned off. 

Former Labor Minister Adem Somyurek has now claimed that Labor lawyers instructed Members of Parliament not to cooperate with police. He would know. He was a participant in the scheme. The matter, Somyurek says, should be referred to the Independent Broad-based Anti-corruption Commission.

With Parliament starting for the year this week, he’ll move a motion to that effect. From the perspective of the opposition, the Liberals and Nationals will continue to support any inquiries into this tawdry affair, and the serious rorting of taxpayers’ money.

The Shadow Minister for Police, Brad Battin, has twice written to the Police Commissioner urging him to reopen the investigation. 

Explosively, Somyurek says Labor politicians, including himself, “acted corruptly, and then we did not cooperate with Ombudsman’s inquiry and the various police investigations.”

Labor MPs “stole taxpayer funds”.

Somyurek’s insights into the manner in which Labor members refused to assist in  the operation of justice are damning, yet totally unsurprising.

Years ago now, through Victoria’s Freedom of Information laws, the Liberals gained secret documents that showed the extent of Labor-members’ non-compliance. One police email said, “the 16 MPs had declined to be interviewed via their legal representatives”. They also refused to make statements.

Daniel Andrews – naturally – had publicly said the exact opposite was true: that Labor MPs were cooperating. On 2 February 2015 he went on radio and promised that his members would “absolutely” be speaking to police if asked. He went on: “every single Victorian should cooperate with Victoria Police”.

Now, Daniel Andrews is a very clever politician. However, other Labor figures lack his political skills.

For example, late last year Minister Jaclyn Symes was asked a simple question: would she cooperate with a re-opened police investigation into the Red Shirt rorts?

Bizarrely she said, “I’m pretty sure if asked to do so, I would”.

What? She would consider the request to cooperate “on its merits”. What does that mean?

You may never have heard of Jaclyn Symes.

But she is not some lowly functionary. She’s the Attorney-General: Victoria’s chief law officer.

So it’s of great importance that she can’t say what you or I would say in a heartbeat – of course we’d cooperate with an official investigation.

She couldn’t say it because, unlike Daniel Andrews, she was telling the truth. The Labor Party only ever cooperates with inquiries – be they by the police, the Ombudsman, or any other official body – when it’s in their interests.

Red Shirts is a case in point. Fast forward to today, and the Labor Party in Victoria is under investigation by the Independent Broad-based Anti-corruption Commission for other serious alleged misdeeds, including industrial-scale branch stacking and the systemic misuse of public money.

Is Labor cooperating? Not a chance.

At a public hearing held on 1 November 2021, the Counsel assisting IBAC stated that its lawyers had requested documents from the Labor Party – which had, of course, refused to provide them.

Victoria is not a one-party state. Nor is it the plaything of the Labor Party. Yet that’s how we are being treated.

Labor’s disdain for due process, accountability and scrutiny is stunning. Back in 2020 when the Liberals raised serious concerns about Labor’s savage cuts to integrity bodies senior Minister Shaun Leane said, “nobody cares”, “nobody’s listening” and “we’ll just keep governing”.

It goes to show: Labor under Daniel Andrews has reached peak hubris. Despite Labor’s obstructionism, the inquiry into the Red Shirts affair must be reopened. And, finally, Labor must cooperate.

After I skipped over “C’est Une Chemise Rose” Spotify played another French number: “Les Feuilles Mortes” – Autumn leaves.

The people of Victoria will soon decide if this government, too, is in its final days.

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