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Labor MPs husband sent one email in a year while doing electorate office work, inquiry told

The husband of a Labor MP believed to be doing factional work while employed as a taxpayer-funded staffer sent just one email last year, an inquiry has heard.

Victoria’s Independent Broad-based Anti-Corruption Commission inquiry is probing whether taxpayer resources were used to aid Labor branch stacking.

In a transcript read to Monday’s hearing, Labor MP Kaushaliya Vaghela was questioned about her husband Dinesh Chauhan’s employment in the offices of MPs Adem Somyurek, Robin Scott and Marlene Kairouz.

Asked if she believed her husband was mainly doing factional work at these offices, she replied: “Yes”.

The questioner then told Ms Vaghela that last year, Mr Chauhan sent just one work email.

“That’d be highly suggestive to you that he was predominantly carrying out factional work?”

“Yes,” Ms Vaghela replied.

Asked if Mr Somyurek, a factional heavyweight, valued her husband as an “active recruiter” of new members, she agreed.

While branch stacking is not illegal, electorate office staff receiving public salaries are not allowed to do party political work.

Electorate officer Christine Kelly, who worked for Ms Kairouz for 13 years, gave evidence before IBAC on Monday.

She told the hearing she had never done any factional work for the Labor Party while employed by the former Labor Minister.

Ms Kelly later said she handled Labor membership renewals “whenever they asked me too” but in her own time.

“That’s obviously factional work,” counsel assisting Chris Carr said.

“I used my time in lieu and my petrol to take them in,” she replied.

“I never put in for time in lieu, I never put in for overtime, I used it each year to take the renewals in.”

The inquiry heard multiple people worked alongside Ms Kelly in the the electorate office of Ms Kairouz, an accused branch stacker.

Ms Kairouz has denied any wrongdoing.

However, the office received less than a call a day during half of 2019.

“You’d accept I assume that constituent inquiries didn’t make up terribly much of the work done in Ms Kairouz’s office?” Mr Carr asked.

Ms Kelly replied that some inquiries came in via email and sometimes people dropped into the office.

Electorate officer Christine Kelly said she did party work but in her own time. Supplied
Camera IconElectorate officer Christine Kelly said she did party work but in her own time. Supplied Credit: Supplied

She said the office manager Kirsten Psalia ticked off Labor membership lists, membership renewals and dealt with ballots.

Ms Psalia would also check members’ names off with the electoral roll to ensure they were spelt correctly, she said.

Letters were shown to the inquiry from Ms Kairouz’s office in May 2018 authorising Ms Kelly to collect ballot papers from ALP head office for the ALP national conference delegates’ election.

But Ms Kelly said she didn’t know anything about it.

“I can’t ever remember picking up a ballot from head office,” she said.

“I don’t ever remember seeing them, I’m sorry.”

“Can you explain why somebody in your workplace might’ve gone to the trouble of sending letters to ALP head office authorising you to pick up people’s ballots?” Mr Carr asked.

“No, I can’t,” Ms Kelly replied.

“It certainly wouldn’t be electorate officer work, would it, Ms Kelly?”

“No it wouldn’t,” she replied.

“These are forged documents designed to get the ballot papers for ALP internal elections into your hands and they’ve come from your workplace. Are you not able to help us on how that might have happened?” Mr Carr asked.

“I have no idea how that might have happened,” she said.

“I don’t know where they came from.”

Counsel assisting Chris Carr said Victorian Labor’s lawyers were not providing the inquiry with important information.
Camera IconCounsel assisting Chris Carr said Victorian Labor’s lawyers were not providing the inquiry with important information. Credit: Supplied

The inquiry also heard lawyers for the Victorian Labor Party had failed to provide it with important information.

Mr Carr warned the solicitors could be compelled to appear before the inquiry if the request was not met.

The IBAC inquiry was launched after allegations of branch stacking – involving Mr Somyurek, his allies and taxpayer-funded workers – were aired in leaked videos.

It continues on Wednesday.

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