SMALL Business, Innovation and Trade Minister Adem Somyurek has resigned after an inquiry dismissed his denials of intimidating his staff.
On Tuesday, Mr Somyurek – who is a Dandenong-based South Eastern Metropolitan MP – said his resignation shouldn’t be taken as an admission of guilt over allegations by his chief-of-staff Dimity Paul.
“I maintain my innocence,” Mr Somyurek said.
He said the inquiry had not found him engaging in “abusive, threatening, intimidating, aggressive and inappropriate” conduct that put his staff’s health and safety at risk.
“I’m happy to report that (the) inquiry clears me of these allegations.”
Mr Somyurek characterised the allegations as “payback” from the union, the Shop, Distributive and Allied Employees Association.
He demanded the resignations of Deputy Premier James Merlino and the Premier’s chief-of-staff John McLindon.
A report by former County Court judge Michael Strong stated Mr Somyurek had “diminished, to some degree, Ms Paul’s confidence in her personal safety while in the Minister’s presence” on one occasion.
During that time, the minister had admonished Ms Paul after a meeting on 13 February by holding her chin in his hand and shaking it gently side-to-side, telling her to “calm down and put a filter on it”.
The minister had been embarrassed by a comment Ms Paul made at that meeting, Mr Strong stated.
Mr Somyurek’s conduct was found to be mainly “appropriate and professional” except for instances of him directing aggressive language, finger pointing and allegations of incompetence at Ms Paul.
“Such conduct was occasional rather than systematic and was invariably associated with the Minister having to perform publicly, e.g. in parliament,” Mr Strong stated.
On 20 May, Mr Somyurek summarily dismissed ministerial adviser Xavier Smith principally for intervening on behalf of Ms Paul after Mr Somyurek spoke to her aggressively, the report found.
Mr Somyurek’s evidence on these events was found to be “unfavourable”.
“He has denied too much,” Mr Strong said.
“He contends that evidence given by Ms Paul and Mr Smith is not merely or exaggerated but largely fabricated – especially in the case of Ms Paul.
“I am comfortably satisfied this is not so.”
The report found Ms Paul exhibited “occasional conscious exaggeration”, and Mr Smith showed an “element of unconscious exaggeration … consistent with him being an enthusiastic advocate in his own cause”.
“I am however satisfied that the evidence of each of them on critical issues was far more reliable than the evidence of the Minister.”
Mr Strong said the incidents weren’t serious enough for reporting to the Victorian WorkCover Authority.
In a statement, Mr Andrews said the report by Mr Strong made “deeply concerning” findings against Mr Somyurek.
“The Minister’s behaviour, as outlined by Mr Strong, is unacceptable.”
It found that the former minister “caused distress to staff and adversely affected their well-being”, Mr Andrews said.
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