I became aware of scandal in Brimbank Council a few years ago, because I assisted Jill Quirk in the editing of a film where Jill and Gloria O'Connor interviewed Marilyn Canet at length. The film, entitled, The Arcane Battle of Taylors Lakes has never been publicly released, but has been held as a document. Yesterday I recontacted Marilyn Canet and asked her what she thought of the investigations and the parliamentary speech. She said that she had been present in Parliament when Mrs Powell, the Member for Shepparton, had delivered her speech (published below) and that she thought it was very accurate. In addition Marilyn wrote:
"Since 2002 I have submitted more than 130 items of correspondence, submissions, reports to the Premier, Ministers, Auditor General, Attorney General, Victoria Police and other bodies requesting a full investigation into alleged corruption in Brimbank.
. No satisfactory investigations took place in response to those efforts.
. I have issued correspondence to the Victorian Ombudsman since the issue of his report outlining a further 22 issues which I believe his investigation should have included. In other words the recent investigation was narrowly focused and did not serve to present the full breadth of the allegations of irregular/corrupt practices.
. The Ombudsman's office was aware of these further issues from correspondence previously issued to his office. Appropriate actions should have been taken in 2004 when first notified.
. The reasons provided by the Ombudsman's Office for failure to investigate all allegations during this investigation was the limited resources available.
. It is the writers view that this case demonstrates the necessity for the urgent appointment of an Independent broad based Crime and Corruption Body to Victoria."
Local government: corruption
[Subheadings added by candobetter editor]
Mrs POWELL [Nationals Victoria member for Shepparton] stated on 10 June 2009 — Today I grieve for the erosion of democracy in local government under this Labor government which refuses to stamp out corruption and thereby fails the people of Victoria, particularly those in the western suburbs.
To show Victorians the type of corruption evident within Labor Party ranks, today a second Ombudsman’s report has been tabled. It outlines allegations that a council building inspector, Mr Peter Anastasi, used information and influence in his role with the council to obtain a personal advantage in the purchase of a property. The Ombudsman has asked that those allegations be referred to Victoria Police for its consideration. This is another damning report on the Brimbank City Council and on this government’s allowance of corrupt practices in that council.
Rally for democracy on steps of Parliament
A rally is being held on the steps of Parliament House today, involving councillors from all over Victoria who are outraged at the government’s removal of planning powers from local government. I grieve because I know how important local government is; it has a vital role.
Members in this house know I have been a local government commissioner, but they forget that I have also been an elected councillor and an elected president with the Shire of Greater Shepparton.
I grieve for the councillors who will lose their jobs around Victoria ...
I understand the roles and responsibilities of a councillor. I grieve for the councillors who will lose their jobs around Victoria not because they have done anything wrong, but because this government has failed to stamp out corruption. It knew about those practices in the Brimbank council; it was warned for years, but it refused to do anything, and now decent, hardworking councillors across Victoria have to decide whether they want to be a councillor or whether they want to work for a member of Parliament.
...Because the government has sat on its hands and allowed corruption to escalate
These councillors have done absolutely nothing wrong, but the government has sat on its hands and allowed corruption to escalate because it does not want to upset the factional warlords and jeopardise their political careers. The factions really run Labor-dominated councils, as we have seen from the Brimbank report, which I will talk about later.
John Cain on Victorian ALP machine
It is not just the coalition or the community that believe there is corruption in Labor councils. An Age article of
16 May is headed, ‘Cain attacks ALP for council abuses.’ It reads:
Former Premier John Cain has called on leaders of the Victorian ALP machine to show some political will and stamp out the alarming abuses of power revealed in the Labor-dominated Brimbank council.
Mr Cain says the appalling behaviour of the ALP figures in the western suburb municipality, exposed in a scathing Ombudsman’s report last week, is an indictment of the whole party and a challenge to its organisational leaders.
The article further says:
It has the rules and processes to do so. All that is needed is the political will.
The article goes on:
Mr Cain, who wrote a damming internal report for the ALP five years ago on corrupt party practices in the western suburbs, says the Labor machine knows how to root out the problems.
… In reference to his 2004 report and other investigations Mr Cain writes: ‘Some years ago the Victorian ALP was shown, by internal inquiries conducted under its rules, what was wrong. It was told quite unambiguously what was needed to be done to remedy these faults. The branch stacking and ghost branch meetings had to stop. (But) for several reasons, it chose not to act.’
That is a damning indictment by a former Labor Premier of this state.
I also grieve for the people of the western suburbs who have put up with these practices for years and have begged the government to intervene. For many years community members have written letters and made submissions to the government and Brimbank council asking them to stop the corrupt practices. I do not have time to go through all of them, but one of the people I would like particularly to speak about is Marilyn Canet, who on 1 July 2005 wrote to all members of Parliament. I have on file a copy of the letter I received from Ms Canet, who was then the Save Our Suburbs municipal representative for Brimbank.
The letter states:
The attached document has been issued to all parliamentary members and relevant planning bodies representing Victoria. It concerns alleged corruption involving the Brimbank City Council, but more importantly, the state government’s refusal to investigate and address those matters.
A letter from Ms Canet of 29 June 2005 says:
A full investigation into Brimbank City Council was recently sought in a parliamentary motion by the Hon. Bill Forwood and the Hon. John Vogels. Six Brimbank councillors (including the mayor of the time) were named in relation to alleged corruption involving a ‘councillor pool of moneys’ contributed by Brimbank developers, real estate agents and other businesses, intended to finance the named councillor’s 2003 election campaign …
Years of letters ignored by local and state government...
Ms Canet goes on to talk about the letters and submissions she has put to this government and to members of the ALP for years, and nothing has been done other than the Ombudsman finally being asked to look into those matters.
The Sunshine Ratepayers Association has written numerous letters, and Darlene Reilly has been to Brimbank City Council. There have been numerous letters and submissions sent to the former Minister for Local Government and to the Minister, for Planning, asking them to intervene and stop corrupt practices at the Brimbank council. A former shadow Minister for Local Government, John Vogels, also raised this matter a number of times in the other house, urging the government to step in and investigate allegations of corrupt and illegal practices by Labor councillors, and again nothing has happened.
Local MPs in the area called for investigations into Brimbank
The local MPs in the area became involved. Mr Bernie Finn, a member for Western Metropolitan Region in the other house, has continually called for investigations into Brimbank. If members read the upper house debates regarding the Brimbank council, they will see how many people have asked for investigations into the Brimbank council, going back many years. In this house the member for Keilor delivered an absolute tirade on the Brimbank council in the grievance debate, and anyone who wants to understand how corrupt he saw Brimbank council as being just has to read in Hansard the debate of 30 July last year. It is a shame that I do not have enough time to put more on record, but those who are interested should read the report of that tirade.
The member for Keilor is the local member. He is also a longstanding Labor member, and in absolute frustration he used the grievance debate to urge the government to investigate the Brimbank council.
Ombudsman's investigation finally occurred
On behalf of the coalition I wrote to the Ombudsman the day after that tirade, calling for an investigation of the serious misconduct of two councils — the Brimbank council and the Port Phillip City Council. I sent the Ombudsman a copy of the Hansard speech of the member for Keilor and his claims of threats, bribery, intimidation, misuse of council funds, mismanagement, improper behaviour and the Brimbank council’s failure to govern effectively. I also sent the Ombudsman a transcript of the ABC program Stateline of Friday, 25 July, which raised some serious issues about the conduct of Labor councillors and Labor members. Mr George Brouwer, the Ombudsman, responded on 7 August last year saying that he was conducting his own investigation into Port Phillip council but had decided to conduct a formal investigation into the Brimbank council following my request.
The Ombudsman’s report was tabled on 7 May, about nine months after it was requested. This report was much-awaited by the coalition, but more importantly it was much-awaited by the Labor government, ALP councillors at Brimbank and all ALP members, because they would have known it would be a damning indictment of the way Labor runs councils — for Labor’s benefit and not for the benefit of communities.
The 208-page document goes absolutely to the cut and thrust of what was happening at Brimbank at the time. I suggest that any member who wants to find out how not to run a council and about the misuse of power by councillors, should read the Ombudsman’s report. I congratulate the Ombudsman on the thoroughness of the report. It was tabled on 7 May and is entitled Investigation into the Alleged Improper Conduct of Councillors at Brimbank City Council, and.
The report states:
Councillors are mandated to represent the interests of the community and to faithfully and impartially carry out their functions to the best of their skill and judgement. They are required to act honestly and to exercise reasonable care and diligence and must not make improper use of their position or information acquired, because of their position, to advantage themselves or any other person or to cause detriment to the council.
It further states:
Sadly, my investigation into the conduct of councillors at Brimbank City Council identified that the behaviour of many councillors failed to meet those standards.
Dysfunctional council, influence of unelected persons
The report goes on to detail evidence given to the Ombudsman about a dysfunctional council, the influence of unelected persons who held no elected local government office, including individuals who would be or who were in the past precluded from holding office because of criminal convictions. These are people who are dealing with councillors, talking to councillors and trying to make decisions in their interests rather than in the interests of the people of the western suburbs.
...Conflicts of interest, an improper use of power, bullying and intimidation, misuse of council funds and equipment including pornographic material...
The Ombudsman found there were conflicts of interest, an improper use of power, bullying and intimidation, misuse of council funds and equipment including pornographic material and inappropriate software on the laptops of two councillors, the inappropriate release of information, improper use of electoral information and concerns about the Office of Local Government not being funded sufficiently to carry out the statutory responsibilities of investigating breaches of the Local Government Act. The report goes on and on about the corrupt practices at the Brimbank council.
The government has said it will implement all of the recommendations in the report, including having the Minister for Local Government closely monitor the activities of the council and suspending it if the current poor practices continue. The Ombudsman also recommended that the Local Government Act be amended to disqualify persons employed as electorate officers, ministerial advisers and parliamentary advisers, and anyone employed by a federal or state MP from becoming or continuing to be a councillor or nominating as a councillor. As I said earlier, this means that councillors across Victoria who are hard working and are not guilty of any offence will be sacked.
Conflict with Charter of Human Rights and Responsiblities
We have to wonder whether, when this legislation is introduced, it will be contrary to the Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities. I understand the Municipal Association of Victoria is seeking some advice on that issue.
Some of the most damning evidence is that this government is saying it has put in place a code of conduct and conflict-of-interest guidelines, and it talks about the issue of bias and says that councillors must come to their council chambers with an open mind and be able to change their minds.
ALP 'Municipal Caucus rules'
I will read briefly from the ALP’s ‘municipal caucus rules’. These show how members of the ALP — councillors of the caucus — cannot have open minds.
The rules state:
12.6.1 An ALP caucus shall be established in each municipal government area where two or more endorsed ALP candidates have been elected to office, All endorsed ALP candidates who have been elected to office shall belong to the ALP caucus.
12.6.6 The vote of an absolute majority of eligible caucus members shall bind all members of caucus and no member shall oppose in debate in council any matter which has been determined by caucus, except by the agreement of caucus.
12.6.9 Any member of caucus first wishing to introduce an item in council under general business shall first submit that item to caucus for its consideration.
12.6.10 In the case of a notice of motion which must be submitted before the notice paper is published, permission to submit such a motion must be given by the president of caucus.
12.6.11 The caucus shall determine who shall move and second motions to be introduced or coming before council arising from caucus decisions.
12.6.14 Meetings of caucus shall be held in camera. Unless required by these rules, no member of caucus shall divulge any information regarding the proceedings of caucus unless authorised to do so by an absolute majority of eligible caucus members or the administrative committee.
Mrs Powell: Municipal caucus rules not in the public interest
I call on the government to immediately abandon its municipal caucus rules in the public interest and the interests of good local government. People need to have confidence in local government, and they have to respect the office of local government. Victoria needs to stamp out corruption at all levels of government.
Obviously this Labor government has shown that it does not have the will to do that.
It is not just the opposition that says this; former Labor Premier John Cain, the community of Brimbank and councils right across Victoria are saying we should stamp out corruption. They are telling this government to use the power it has, to use the Local Government Act to stamp it out, to stop it before it festers and grows and escalates. Those of us who support local government say, ‘Stop these corrupt practices’.
Call for independent, broadbased anticorruption commission
To stamp out corruption at all levels of government Victoria needs an independent, broadbased anticorruption commission. I believe we are almost the only state without one, so I call on the government to listen to what the opposition is saying. We support local government and ask this Labor government to put in place the Ombudsman’s recommendations and stamp out corruption.
ALP should take the muzzles off the Labor councillors
More than that, we ask the government to talk to its Labor councillors and allow them to speak on behalf of the community, not for members caucus and the ALP who deal with ALP policies and practices. In the interests of local government I urge the government to work with local government, to stamp out corruption and allow local government to get on with what it does best — namely, represent the interests of its community.