By Cam Lucadou-Wells
Casey councillor Geoff Ablett has defended his refusal to give evidence to previous corruption inquiries into the council, an IBAC inquiry has heard.
Cr Ablett said he had been following legal advice not to possibly incriminate himself during a 2014-‘15 State Ombudsman investigation into Casey, including his relationship with property developer John Woodman.
“I didn’t believe I had done anything wrong, but I followed legal advice, sir,” Cr Ablett told the IBAC inquiry.
Cr Ablett had recently declared he was “not corrupt” in a Sunday Herald Sun story, declaring that he’d never been interviewed by “anyone” prior to being compelled to appear at IBAC.
On November 28, he told IBAC he had done the newspaper interview to “give my side of the story”.
“I didn’t relate the Ombudsman to the IBAC that’s happening now.”
The IBAC Operation Sandon inquiry is investigating Cr Ablett allegedly receiving $330,000 from Mr Woodman.
In 2010, Mr Woodman had met and requested a $15,000 share for his daughter in a three-year-old gelding Good Call, Cr Ablett said.
It was the same time that Casey Council was deciding upon Brompton Lodge land to be rezoned from the Green Wedge.
“I had no knowledge of that connection at that time,” Cr Ablett told the hearing.
“It is coincidence, sir.”
At the time, Cr Ablett was a hobby trainer with two horses including Good Call – which he also part-owned. He didn’t “get it to the racetrack”.
Since then, Mr Woodman had part-owned horses with Cr Ablett, such as a $15,000 share in Prima Facie in 2014 and an unnamed two-year-old filly.
The filly was paid fully by Mr Woodman, with Cr Ablett given a half-share.
“I’m to look after it morning, noon and night, which is about 40 hours a week I put in,” Cr Ablett said.
In the past decade, Cr Ablett estimated he was given $150,000 by Mr Woodman, including a monthly fee of up to $5000 for the horses’ upkeep.
“I completely separated horses from council all the way through.”
Mr Woodman had also donated $40,000 to Cr Ablett’s State election campaign in 2014.
The developer also supported the 2010 state election campaigns of Cr Ablett and former Casey mayor Lorraine Wreford.
Both Crs Ablett and Wreford had voted for the Brompton Lodge rezoning in 2010, the IBAC hearing was told
According to Counsel assisting IBAC, Michael Tovey, Cr Ablett hadn’t absented himself from voting on a Woodman-related matter until 2014.
Cr Ablett also revealed that then-Casey chief executive Mike Tyler drove him to the Brompton Lodge site in the lead-up.
“He said, ‘I want this as a logical inclusion and it’s coming up at council in a fortnight’s time’ or the date.”
Mr Tovey asked Cr Ablett if Mr Tyler’s statement was an “inversion” of the normal process.
“The way Mr Tyler worked, his officers did a lot of work in that…It was a different way of doing things as we do them now.”“The way Mr Tyler worked, his officers did a lot of work in that…It was a different way of doing things as we do them now.”