More Vic councils dragged into IBAC Casey investigation

By Shannon Jenkins

Wednesday January 15, 2020

Adobe Stock

The saga continues for Victoria’s councils as the state corruption watchdog’s investigation into Casey has sparked internal reviews at Mornington Peninsula Shire.

For months the Independent Broad-based Anti-corruption Commission has been examining council decisions related to property development and planning in the City of Casey as part of Operation Sandon. It heard property developer John Woodman allegedly paid at least $1.2 million in bribes to former Casey mayors Sam Aziz and Geoff Ablett in a bid to win planning approvals for his clients.

In December, the City of Kingston launched a review into its own planning decisions, and this week, the Shire of Mornington confirmed it would do the same.

Shire mayor Sam Hearn said the council would conduct a review of planning applications and decisions involving Woodman, who is based in Mornington. He noted the review could also examine decisions made by past state planning ministers.

“We want to show that we are here for the good of the whole community, not a small sector of property developers,” he said on Tuesday. “Even if that means going back and exposing historical situations and occurrences that weren’t up to standard.”

READ MORE: ‘Sham’ deals and dodgy donations take focus in IBAC investigation

Overseen by council chief executive John Baker and monitored by a probity advisor, the review would look at projects involving Woodman and his lawyer and planner Megan Schutz. It would also consider the development firm Wolfdene. The firm is run by Michael Goldthorp — a business partner of Woodman’s son, Heath.

Baker said the matter would be referred to IBAC if necessary.

Last month IBAC commissioner Robert Redlich said the second phase of Operation Sandon would go beyond what happened in Casey Council.

“[In 2020], IBAC will also continue to explore whether the use of professional lobbyists or planning consultants to lobby government at all levels has resulted in undue influence over planning and property development decision making within Victoria,” he said in a statement.

“This IBAC investigation is also looking into the broader systemic issues impacting on the integrity of our planning process, including an examination of the integrity of current donation laws, and how the troubling conduct evidenced in this investigation, and the potential adverse impact this has on our community, can be stopped wherever it is likely to occur.”

IBAC public hearings into Casey council will recommence on March 2.

About the author
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments