By Andrew Cantwell
Any attempt to rezone Cranbourne West industrial land at the centre of corruption allegations being investigated by IBAC must by now be political poison.
The rezoning under a Casey planning scheme amendment – live since 2014 – has not yet been determined, having been deferred since late last year by Planning Minister Richard Wynne.
After explosive allegations over the last week at IBAC’s public hearings into planning processes at the City of Casey there can be no guarantee that every stage of the rezoning application hasn’t been tainted.
The man championing the rezoning, Watsons principal John Woodman has been shown to have an extensive network of influence in planning matters at all levels at the City of Casey Council and into the upper reaches of the State Government.
They also show Mr Woodman had an intimate knowledge of the power balances and voting tendencies of deeply partisan groups of Casey councillors.
Accusations have been made that Mr Woodman and an associate, planning lawyer Megan Schutz, have improperly ‘scripted’ and ‘directed’ particular votes of the actual council over a number of years.
These accusations were denied by Mr Woodman, who claimed his efforts were aimed at clarifying and offering alternative recommendations to those of Casey planning officers.
There were allegations Mr Woodman was even involved in the toppling of former long-serving Casey CEO Mike Tyler, who was particularly resistant to the C219 rezoning.
Further allegations accuse Mr Woodman and Ms Schutz of forming a community lobby group, the Save Cranbourne West Residents Action Group, and using it to channel correspondence favourable to C219 to councillors, politicians and government officials, for use in justifying any rezoning by showing ‘community’ support.
Investigations have also detailed his substantial donations to state and local elections dating back to 2014. Mr Woodman in response said it was not illegal to donate to political parties in Australia.
Several tapped phone conversations played at the hearings indicate the extraordinary degree of access, the strategic placement of favourable information and the leverage Mr Woodman may have been able to apply at all levels, which may have subverted orderly and proper planning processes.
In light of the extraordinary details coming to light through the IBAC hearings, any attempt to now put the tick of approval on C219 will surely invite a fresh round of questions and scrutiny.