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Vic mayor returns to anti-corruption probe

A mayor of a council in Melbourne’s northeast who has admitted to branch stacking will continue giving evidence at an anti-corruption inquiry.

Banyule Mayor Rick Garotti told the Independent Broad-based Anti-corruption Commission inquiry on Monday he spent $15,000 over a five-to-six year period on other people’s membership to Labor’s Heidelberg branch.

He said the practice was “a part of the culture” in the Labor Party since he first became a member in 2002 and that it extended to all factions.

Mr Garotti said Legislative Council President Nazih Elasmar was also paying memberships for others in the party’s Darebin branch.

Mr Elasmar is the second Labor MP to be accused of branch stacking during the IBAC hearings, with Luke Donnellan resigning from cabinet last week after admitting to breaching party rules.

Mr Elasmar, Mr Donnellan and Mr Garotti are members of Labor’s moderate faction, which was led by upper house MP Adem Somyurek until a Nine Network investigation last year exposed him as the leader of an “industrial-scale” branch stacking operation.

Branch stacking involves factions paying the membership of others, sometimes without their knowledge, to boost their influence and ensure preferred candidates are preselected.

It is not illegal but it is against Labor party rules. IBAC is investigating whether taxpayer funds and money intended for community associations was used for such work.

Mr Garotti told the inquiry it was common for politicians to “reward” factional allies and their families with taxpayer-funded roles.

He said he asked Mr Somyurek to hire Dr Hussein Haraco, a member of his Heidelberg branch, as an electorate officer as he was an important faction member and “needed to be looked after”.

Mr Garotti also wanted Mr Somyurek to find a taxpayer-funded job for Dr Haraco’s daughter, during which she could spend time “recruiting” for their faction.

Mr Garotti will continue to give evidence to the inquiry on Tuesday, while Dr Haraco is scheduled to appear on Wednesday.

Mr Somyurek quit Labor before he was expelled but retained his upper house seat. He denies stacking allegations.

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