By Cam Lucadou-Wells
The then-Local Government Minister Adem Somyurek allegedly lobbied councillors and ‘did in’ a candidate at a Greater Dandenong Council mayoral election, an IBAC inquiry has heard.
Holt federal MP Anthony Byrne, in texts to a staffer, described Cr Loi Truong as being promised the mayoralty by Mr Somyurek in November 2019.
“I was in a room with him and Loi where he said (Loi) should be given an opportunity to be mayor.
“Then he did him in using the Cambodians.”
The “lie” was made in a meeting at Mr Byrne’s office between him, Cr Truong and Mr Somyurek, Mr Byrne told the Operation Watts inquiry on 11 October.
Mr Somyurek told Cr Truong that he’d do what he could to assist his mayoral election but was limited by his role as Local Government Minister, Mr Byrne said.
However, Mr Somyurek instead “lobbied” Greater Dandenong councillors Youhorn Chea and Sophie Tan – both of “Cambodian background” – to vote for victorious candidate Cr Jim Memeti.
Mr Byrne’s staff members told him that soon after the meeting Mr Somyurek met with Cr Memeti at a McDonald’s outlet “not far from my office” for two-and-a-half hours.
“So that led me to surmise something like that happened.”
Mr Byrne agreed with IBAC Counsel Assisting Chris Carr that there was a “relationship” between Mr Somyurek and Cr Memeti.
He said that with “some exceptions”, Greater Dandenong mayors had been Labor-aligned for years.
Cr Truong believed if he had been given a “clear run” that Crs Chea and Tan would have voted for him, Mr Byrne said.
“He was asking Adem not to intervene (against him).”
IBAC Commissioner Richard Redlich asked Mr Byrne if he’d experienced any other Local Government Ministers seeking to influence mayoral elections.
“No I don’t,” Mr Byrne replied.
Cr Truong believed that Mr Somyurek had “enormous power” over Crs Chea and Tan, Mr Byrne said.
“Cr Chea and Cr Tan I think through the Cambodian Association worked fairly closely with Adem Somyurek.”
The then-Local Government Minister also had a “close relationship” with former Cambodian-community MP Hong Lim and Mr Lim’s successor Meng Heang Tak.
Mr Somyurek had been “fairly instrumental” in ensuring Mr Tak – a former Greater Dandenong mayor – was preselected in Mr Lim’s seat.
Mr Tak also shares the same Moderate Labor faction as Mr Somyurek, Mr Byrne told the inquiry.
Last year, Cr Memeti told Star News he had known Mr Somyurek since 2005, when the mayor was first elected to Greater Dandenong Council.
He had found Mr Somyurek to be “pretty business-as-usual” as a Minister, he said.
After the IBAC hearing, Cr Memeti reiterated his comments last year to Star News that Mr Somyurek had no direct influence in Greater Dandenong mayoral elections.
He said “I can’t recall” his alleged meeting with Mr Somyurek at McDonald’s. He’d never stayed at a McDonald’s for two-and-a-half hours, he said.
“I’ve never spoken to Mr Somyurek regarding elections. I’ve never heard of Mr Somyurek influencing the mayoral election – nor any other MPs.
“It’s all done with councillors. All the councillors try to lobby their colleagues”
Cr Memeti said he had a “relationship” with “all local MPs”.
“You’d catch me having a coffee and a lunch with all the MPs in the area.
“I try to work with the MPs as much as possible to advocate on things in the community.”
The mayoral vote in 2019 was “hotly contested” between Crs Chea, Memeti, Truong and Maria Sampey, Cr Memeti said.
On first count, Cr Chea was eliminated.
In the next round, Crs Sampey and Truong were tied for second. The latter was eliminated when he drew the ‘defeated’ ball from a pink hat.
Only on the third round did a councillor gain a narrow 6-5 majority – Cr Memeti with the backing of Crs Chea, Tan, Angela Long, Zaynoun Melham and Tim Dark.
Cr Sampey was supported by Crs Truong, Peter Brown, Sean O’Reilly and Matthew Kirwan.
Nine of the 11 Greater Dandenong councillors were Labor members, except for Crs Dark (Liberal) and Kirwan (Greens).
Cr Truong, who was admitted to ICU with Covid last week, could not be contacted for comment.