After a summer of bushfires and the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews now finds himself dealing with a disaster in his own political backyard.
Andrews yesterday promptly sacked Upper House MP Adem Somyurek from his Cabinet post after the Nine Network aired derogatory comments Somyurek made about Gabrielle Williams, the Minister in charge of boosting respect and safety for women.
Somyurek also stands accused of industrial-scale branch stacking, and the use of ministerial staff for factional activities, which he denies.
As far as political executions go, this was swift and well-orchestrated.
It has also cost Somyurek’s factional ally a senior role, with Assistant Treasurer Robin Scott resigning from Cabinet saying he would clear his name citing the political favourite that he did not want to be a “distraction” for the Government.
Many in Labor believe this was a hitjob by party insiders, one so brutally pulled off it left Somyurek floored.
The expulsion from the party is a big step and the shockwaves will last.
The spread of a factional operation usually goes well beyond just two men. Questions will continue to be levelled at another of Somyurek’s Cabinet allies, Marlene Kairouz, who has assured the Premier she has done nothing wrong.
Despite what his critics said, Somyurek was an influential member of the ALP.
He had successfully overseen a redrawing of factional alliances and amassed significant internal political numbers.
After being sacked from Cabinet in 2015 over allegations of misconduct with his female chief of staff, he had a Lazarus-like recovery to rejoin Cabinet in 2018 after Labor’s election win.
Andrews, an experienced backroom operator himself, knew the lay of the land. Under Labor’s system, Somyurek’s sway warranted a spot in the ministry.
Somyurek was powerful. And he knew it.
It was the vile language that got Somyurek sacked.
And it’s the allegations of branch stacking, referred to authorities by Andrews, that will linger.
Somyurek denies the claims and says he will provide “a rigorous defence during any party process”.
Every year, stories are written about branch stacking in the Labor Party. The ABC completed an investigation in 2018 into stacks in the Somali community linked to Somyurek.
But every time the practice is revealed, it is brushed aside by party officials.
Sometimes there are probes and people are barred from joining but the actual root problem is rarely addressed.
It infuriates local members who join a political party to have their say, only for their voices to be drowned out by apparatchiks.
And for those MPs and staff that do the right thing and join politics to serve the public, it is a kick in the guts.
So, is this the time Labor will look at it properly?
Andrews signalled he would have more to say on this issue this week.
Could this turn into a federal review of the Victorian branch? Will local votes be suspended because the authenticity of memberships is too hard to verify?
They are big questions the party might tackle. There are certainly enough people who want them to.
Today’s events pave the way for a turbulent period for the Premier. Some warn there is a risk of revenge from this damage.
The scandal in itself is enough to make voters turn up their noses and, with the state still in the grip of health and economic crises, it is a major distraction.
And the referral to IBAC carries political risk.
If it drags out for years, it will be a constant reminder to the public of some of the ugly behaviour that can occur behind closed doors.
And with voters already distrusting of politicians, it could mark a turning point in Labor’s dominance of Victorian politics.