Crs’ election funding ’undeclared’

Sam Aziz, left, John Woodman, Lorraine Wreford and Megan Schutz at Sandhurst Golf Club.

By Cam Lucadou-Wells

None of a bloc of candidates declared their 2016 Casey Council election campaigns were funded by property developer John Woodman, an IBAC inquiry was told.

For nearly $100,000, Mr Woodman paid for the design, printing and delivery of 188,000 brochures, 113,000 direct leaflets as well as nomination costs.

Mr Woodman implicitly expected the support of those candidates for his interests, his lobbyist Lorraine Wreford told the Operation Sandon inquiry.

“But he was very explicit in saying that he didn’t want to directly fund it because he didn’t want to be linked to other councillors, firstly, and, secondly, he didn’t even want them to know where the funds were coming from.”

According to the campaign budget tabled at IBAC, his company Watsons paid for photo portraits for nine candidates plus 14 “supporting candidates”.

The document lists initials of elected councillors Sam Aziz, Amanda Stapledon, Geoff Ablett, Wayne Smith and Damien Rosario, as well as unsuccessful candidates Rob Ward, Mick Morland and Louise Berkelmans.

None of the elected councillors declared the funding, Counsel assisting IBAC, Michael Tovey, said.

“I’m disappointed,” Ms Wreford replied.

Cr Sam Aziz pitched the scheme to Mr Woodman over lunch at a Chinese restaurant in Dandenong.

The councillor organised for former Casey mayor Janet Halsall to manage the “gigantic” campaign.

Ms Wreford’s part was to ensure “invoices got paid, nothing else”, she told the hearing.

She said she was “a little bit shocked” by the idea.

“Because I have not ever heard of a concept of a group of councillors or people running as a group, apart from in a political party, in a council election … where they are all funded basically together.”

Ms Wreford said the $98,202 cost may have been less, believing that Cr Aziz paid for his own printing.

Cr Aziz had pitched the idea on the basis of helping candidates “who don’t have the means to run for council”, Ms Wreford said.

“If you have a ward in the City of Casey, it’s almost as big as a state electorate.

“So to actually financially fund a campaign to even put one brochure out is quite expensive.”

Ms Wreford said donations by developers or businesses were a “bit of a free-for-all” at local council elections.

Mr Woodman had told the inquiry that he paid about $50,000.

Prior to the election, candidates were rated by Mr Woodman’s associates as either “friendly”, opponents or unknown in their attitude towards Amendment C219.

The amendment was proposed to rezone a large tract of industrial land in Cranbourne West to residential use – a push that was being driven by Mr Woodman and developer Leighton.

The ‘friendly’ elected councillors, as rated by Mr Woodman’s group, were Crs Geoff Ablett, Susan Serey, Milla Gilic, Amanda Stapledon, Steve Beardon (who was later replaced in a by-election by another friendly Gary Rowe), Damien Rosario, Wayne Smith and Sam Aziz.

Those in the unknown or opponent categories were councillor Rex Flannery, Rosalie Crestani and Tim Jackson.

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