Donnellan quits after IBAC claims

Luke Donnellan has stepped down as Cabinet Minister on the first day of IBAC's Operation Watts hearings.

By Cam Lucadou-Wells

Narre Warren North MP Luke Donnellan has sensationally quit the State Government’s Cabinet after being named by his former boss at an IBAC inquiry on 11 October.

Mr Donnellan, who was serving as a Disability, Ageing, Carers and Child Protection Minister, was a former electorate officer to Holt federal MP Anthony Byrne.

At the Operation Watts inquiry into alleged ALP branch-stacking, Mr Byrne said his former electorate officers – and now State MPs – Mr Donnellan and Adem Somyurek formed a ‘South East Alliance’.

All three bought scores of ALP memberships and membership renewals contrary to party rules, Mr Byrne told the inquiry on 11 October.

Mr Byrne estimated he spent $2000 a year on the memberships, and that the other two MPs spent the same.

They all belonged to the ALP’s ‘Moderate Labor’ faction – of which Mr Somyurek was “convenor”, Mr Byrne said.

Soon afterwards, Mr Donnellan announced his immediate resignation from the ministry.

“I accept that I have previously breached party rules while a Minister.

“But let me be very clear: I never misused public funds or resources in any way. And this has absolutely nothing to do with my staff.”

Mr Donnellan said it was not “possible or appropriate” to remain a minister given the rule breaches.

“The work to support vulnerable Victorians is too important, especially during the pandemic.”

He is the fourth Andrews Government Minister to leave Cabinet in the wake of explosive allegations of branch-stacking by 60 Minutes and The Age in June 2020.

The others are Mr Somyurek, who is a person of interest at the inquiry, as well as Marlene Kairouz and Robin Scott.

In reference to Mr Somyurek, the ALP had been “basically taken over by one person whose sole objective was power and power alone”, Mr Byrne told the inquiry.

The party was “completely out of control” with “branch-stacking” and the “coercion” of taxpayer-funded staff who were “made to do things they didn’t want to do”, Mr Byrne said.

He said that Mr Somyurek had threatened to get rid of sitting MPs from a rival faction, Dandenong MP and Cabinet Minister Gabrielle Williams and Cranbourne MP Pauline Richards.

He named Mr Somyurek and Ms Kairouz as MPs that coerced electorate and ministerial staff into performing factional political activities while on the ‘taxpayer dollar’.

After Mr Donnellan’s resignation, Premier Daniel Andrews said Mr Donnellan was a “passionate advocate for vulnerable kids, people with disability and older Victorians”.

“He leaves a legacy of reform of which he can be proud.

“Luke’s work has seen a transformation of the system for children and families in Victoria, investing in hundreds of dedicated child protection workers and navigators to do their important work supporting families and kids – making sure they have the stable foundation to begin their lives.

“Due to inquiries currently on foot, I will not be making further comment.”

Mr Donnellan’s ministerial portfolios have been allocated to Cabinet members James Merlino and Richard Wynne.