Casey council forced to grant paid leave to overseas colleague at centre of IBAC probe

By Shannon Jenkins

Thursday February 6, 2020

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City of Casey councillor Sam Aziz has been granted extended paid leave while in Egypt, despite facing allegations that he had received bribes from a property developer.

It comes amid growing pressure on the Victorian government to sack the council.

Aziz recently requested extended paid leave from council duties until April, citing health reasons. At a meeting on Tuesday the council reluctantly accepted the request, despite mayor Susan Serey believing the public would see the move as “completely unacceptable”.

She said Aziz could take legal action against the council if it rejected his application, due to a provision in the Local Government Act.

“I want to stress that my councillor colleagues sitting around this table wouldn’t have voted for this motion unless it had potentially other serious legal implications for the City of Casey and its ratepayers,” she said.

“Having considered the medical advice provided by Cr Aziz in support of his application, as well as the legal advice which has reiterated our obligation to not unreasonably refuse leave, we believe we had no alternative to do otherwise.

“My fellow councillors and I feel and share your frustration with this issue.”

The former mayor sold his home and left Australia late last year, before the Independent Broad-based Anti-corruption Commission began its public hearings. The corruption watchdog heard Aziz had received $900,000 from Mornington property developer John Woodman in exchange for favourable planning decisions.

READ MORE: More Vic councils dragged into IBAC Casey investigation

Aziz took to Facebook on Tuesday night following the meeting.

“Tonight council approved a further leave of absence for me after I submitted a detailed medical report explaining why I am not able to return to duty at this stage,” he wrote.

“I have every intention of returning to duty, and as soon as I can.

“I am most disappointed at the statement by the mayor that ‘all councillors around the table’ resent granting this leave, apparently because of the allegations made against me at IBAC, but feel they had no option but to do so.

“It is convenient for these councillors to cowardly victimise a colleague when he is absent notwithstanding extremely serious illnesses.

“It proves that I have already been trialled and convicted by all, and by a vicious and dishonest media, well before any allegations have even been tested in court.”

Sustainable Australia MP Clifford Hayes will today make a motion in the upper house calling on the state government to sack the council.

“The revelations during the Casey Council corruption saga are disgraceful; they are an ugly stain on Victoria’s integrity and reputation,” he said.

“I’m not one for sacking councils, but Casey should be sacked – and you have to wonder why it hasn’t happened already.”

Shadow Local Government Minister Tim Smith has made similar comments.

“This joke has to end, and the Andrews Labor government must step in now and sack this council or this individual councillor who clearly has absolutely no understanding of community expectations in regards to his role as an elected councillor,” he said.

The state government appointed Laurinda Gardner as a special monitor to assess Casey’s governance in November. Gardner will report back to the government next week, after which Local Government Minister Adem Somyurek will decide whether to dismiss the council.

Premier Daniel Andrews has said he would “love to share” his views on Aziz, but would not until Gardner has delivered her report.

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