Bill Shorten is a a close friend of one of the men implicated in the alleged vandalism. Photo: Darrian Traynor Andrew Landeryou is an infamous former blogger and a close friend of the Opposition Leader. Photo: Arsineh Houspian
Labor MP for Melbourne Ports Michael Danby in Parliament. Photo: Andrew Meares
A 2005 photo of Dean Sherriff, taken while he was a Banyule councillor
Police suspect a close friend of Bill Shorten vandalised polling places in the battleground seat of Melbourne Ports along with other Labor Right factional powerbrokers on the morning of the federal election.
Andrew Landeryou, David Asmar, George Droutsas and Dean Sherriff were arrested for allegedly vandalising Greens and Liberal polling material at multiple polling stations from Elwood to Port Melbourne, and allegedly driving at volunteers who tried to stop them.
All four men were heavily involved in the election campaign of Michael Danby, the Labor MP for Melbourne Ports, who is likely to be re-elected with a reduced margin after a tight, three-way battle for the seat.
Mr Landeryou, a controversial former blogger, is a personal and political confidant of Mr Shorten, while another close ally of the Labor leader, Mr Asmar, has been linked to a mammoth branch-stacking scandal.
Mr Asmar left Australia last year shortly after being told he had to appear as a witness before the royal commission into union corruption.
He avoided questioning after saying he was sick and obtaining a medical certificate.
Mr Sherriff formerly worked at the Health Services Union No. 1 branch in Victoria, which was embroiled in the branch-stacking scheme.
Mr Droutsas is an ex-ALP organiser and current HSU employee who is believed to have been an official member of Mr Danby’s campaign.
He has previously worked for Mr Danby during other elections.
Labor figures – including some who were also involved in Mr Danby’s campaign – confirmed the men were arrested.
Several were staggered at the brazenness and stupidity of the vandalism rampage, allegedly committed by four middle-aged men in the early hours of the morning.
The suspects – and Mr Danby – did not respond to repeated requests for comment.
On Friday, after he was told Fairfax Media was calling, Mr Danby said “sorry I can’t talk at the moment” and hung up.
Police suspect the men who committed the vandalism travelled around the electorate in a black Jeep, removing bunting and other promotional material only hours before voting booths opened on July 2.
Liberal and Green supporters called police when their campaign material was damaged at St Kilda Primary School in Brighton Road.
Booths at Elwood Primary School, Port Phillip Specialist School, Albert Park Primary School and Middle Park Primary School were also targeted.
The suspects were arrested at 2.40am in St Kilda.
George Droutsas with Michael Danby and a stack of how-to-vote cards.
Three box cutters were seized from the car they were travelling in, police said, but the men were released pending further inquiries.
They could face charges relating to criminal damage, theft, driving offences and possessing prohibited weapons.
Police will also investigate if false number plates were used on the Jeep, which is believed to be owned by one of the men.
A Victoria Police spokeswoman confirmed the investigation was ongoing.
Mobile phone footage provided to Fairfax Media appears to show Mr Landeryou getting into the back seat of the Jeep as Liberal and Greens supporters confront him and the other men at Middle Park primary.
“Middle Park primary, tearing down Liberal Party bunting, how you going gentlemen?,” the man taking the footage says.
A Greens volunteer told police the driver of the Jeep drove towards them, leaving him on the bonnet of the car, before he regained his feet as the driver sped away.
Mr Droutsas, who was photographed with Mr Danby during the campaign while holding a stack of how to vote cards, is the only member of the group of suspects who lives in the electorate.
But the men were all heavily involved in backroom operations to return Mr Danby to the seat he has held since 1998, and which Labor has held for 110 years.
The campaign for Melbourne Ports was one of Victoria’s ugliest.
Mr Danby defied Labor orders to preference the Liberals last in how-to-vote materials, instead directing voters to preference them ahead of the Greens on some how-to-vote cards distributed around predominantly Jewish neighbourhoods.
On other cards, he upheld the party line and recommended preferencing the Greens before the Liberals.
He claimed poll results issued days before the election, which indicated that the strategy could backfire and lead to a victory by Liberal candidate Owen Guest on preferences, were inaccurate.
Mr Danby also called for Greens candidate Steph Hodgins-May to resign as she exposed her party’s “bigotry” and “deep antagonism” against the Jewish community when she pulled out of a local debate co-hosted by Zionism Victoria.
She reportedly pulled out as she considered Zionism Victoria to be a “political organisation”. Melbourne Ports has the largest Jewish population of any electorate in Australia.
Labor Party Victorian branch assistant secretary Kosmos Samaras vowed to discipline those responsible for the vandalism attack after the police investigation.
All of the men are understood to be current Labor members, or have membership applications pending.
Mr Samaras said he had not yet been informed by Mr Danby’s office or police who was arrested, but that changes could be made to party protocol prior to the next election regardless of the outcome of the investigation.
“What these events may trigger is a far more rigid approach from the party next election in relation to the campaign materials of other parties,” he said.
Mr Sherriff and Mr Droutsas were charged with criminal offences in relation to their time as Labor councillors at Banyule and Whitehorse, respectively.
Mr Sherriff pleaded guilty but escaped conviction for chasing a man, running into the back of his car, and smashing his windscreen during a 2004 road rage attack in Epping.
Mr Droutsas, a former mayor, was acquitted of fraud offences after being accused of organising fake candidates to run against him in a Whitehorse council election in 2010.
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