Australian Federal Police have spoken to a former Labor staffer who uploaded a photo on social media which has been interpreted by some people within the party as a threat against cabinet minister Bill Shorten.
Bassel Tallal, a former staffer for Defence Minister Richard Marles and ex-senator Stephen Conroy, denies he was referencing Shorten in any way when he posted a story on Instagram referencing a song called by American singer-songwriter SZA.
The controversy has occurred as factional tensions in Victorian Labor have intensified ahead of members being able to vote for the party’s administration committee and in critical internal elections after an almost three-year ban.
Shorten and Tallal are running in two separate elections against each other – one for the Maribyrnong branch national delegate and the other as a national conference delegate – with in-person voting starting on Sunday.
On Thursday night, Tallal posted a story on Instagram which was a screenshot of the song being played on Spotify.
The and have been told by multiple Labor sources that the AFP visited the 30-year-old at his Melbourne home on Friday night to warn him about how the social media post could have been interpreted. He then deleted the post.
The visit came after the AFP received a complaint about the post.
Sources said the AFP is taking no further action.
It is not being suggested by this masthead that Tallal’s post was in fact about Shorten.
When this masthead initially contacted Tallal on Saturday morning, he denied police had questioned him on Friday night.
But he later said: “This is a bizarre response to an innocuous social media post about a popular song.”
“If Mr Shorten is offended by my poor music taste, then I apologise to him.”
Tallal had previously posted a similar story on Instagram about the same song in December 15.
The AFP said: “The AFP has no comment.”
Shorten’s office declined to comment.
Labor’s Victorian members have had their voting rights restored ahead of the party’s state conference in June.
The voting rights of branch members in the state were suspended when Labor’s national executive took control of the troubled state branch in June 2020, after and revealed Victorian Labor ministers, ministerial advisers and electorate officers were involved in “industrial-scale” branch-stacking.
Elections for internal party positions, including the powerful administrative committee, are scheduled to take place this month.
The upcoming elections have led to renewed tension between members linked to Shorten and those allied with Marles and Conroy, who are all both part of the broader Right faction.
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