The brother of federal minister Michael Sukkar recruited 58 members to the Liberal Party over two months as part of an allegedly corrupt scheme that boosted the MP’s factional numbers, court documents claim.

Paul Sukkar was one of a handful of people employed as electorate officers in the seats of Menzies and Deakin between 2016 and 2018, and it was their job to recruit members to support the respective sitting members, Michael Sukkar and Kevin Andrews, and their right-wing faction.

The use of electorate officers for party-political purposes is a misuse of taxpayer funds and strictly prohibited.

Factional players: Former electorate officer Paul Sukkar (left), his older brother, federal minister Michael Sukkar, and their factional ally and Liberal elder Kevin Andrews.Credit:

Documents filed by Nine Entertainment, the owner of The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald, in the Federal Court allege Paul Sukkar personally recruited 58 members in February and March 2018 and that despite being hired to work in Mr Andrews’ office, he performed very little work of an electorate officer.

The documents were filed in court as part of a legal defence to defamation proceedings instigated by former Liberal powerbroker Marcus Bastiaan.

Mr Bastiaan is suing the media outlets and reporter Nick McKenzie for defamation and argues media reports from August 2020 allege he “runs a corrupt branch-stacking machine”, was corrupt and might have engaged in criminal offences, and that he has suffered damage to his reputation.

According to the publishers’ defence, Mr Bastiaan was the alleged architect of the scheme to hire people as electorate officers and have them embark on a wide recruiting drive for the party.

Under the drive to increase party memberships in Melbourne’s eastern suburbs, the scheme recruited 5850 members in 2016 and 2017, a 62 per cent increase on the number of new members from 2014 and 2015, according to the defence.

The news outlets say that in November 2016, Mr Sukkar and Mr Bastiaan “directed those present to conduct a wide-ranging recruitment drive for new members of the Liberal Party in order to grow the right faction of the party and reclaim control of the Liberal Party from left-leaning elements within the party”.

Marcus Bastiaan in 2017.Credit:Jesse Marlow

In the defence, Nine and The Age allege the conduct of the former Liberal state vice-president and the scheme he oversaw was corrupt, as it involved the dishonest recruitment of “non-genuine members” to benefit Mr Bastiaan and his factional associates. The defence documents allege Michael Sukkar also oversaw the scheme.

Mr Bastiaan resigned from the Liberal Party last year but denied any wrongdoing, although he apologised for “foolish and stupid things” he said about others.

The news outlets are defending the claim under a truth defence and also argue the reporting was in the public interest.

Michael Sukkar said last year he knew nothing about the alleged rorting of taxpayer funds in the Deakin and Menzies electorate offices when The Age, The Sydney Morning Herald and 60 Minutes exposed the scheme and Mr Bastiaan’s alleged involvement.

A subsequent investigation by the Department of Finance cleared him of wrongdoing, but the scope of that investigation has been questioned.

Mr Sukkar said on Twitter he rejected the allegations in Sunday’s 60 Minutes report, and that a Department of Finance review last year had cleared him of any wrongdoing.

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