SWCRAG run by ’lobbyist’

SCWRAG's Ray Walker with his group behind him in 2015. 146818 Picture: STEWART CHAMBERS

By Cam Lucadou-Wells

Save Cranbourne West Residents Action Group leader Ray Walker said he didn’t declare to his members all of the paid work he did for property developer John Woodman, an IBAC Operation Sandon hearing has been told.

In what he conceded was a conflict of interest, Mr Walker represented the community group on planning issues like the H3 intersection and Amendment C219 in which Mr Woodman had a direct interest.

Mr Walker had performed up to five paid jobs for Mr Woodman such as $5000 a month for land sales reports, $2500 a month for Hall Road advocacy to politicians and $2500 for market research.

Counsel assisting IBAC, Michael Tovey, told Mr Walker he had “sold” his name as SCWRAG’S leader.

IBAC Commissioner Robert Redlich said the right course would have been to withdraw from SCWRAG on accepting the consultancies.

“If I had an outside income I certainly would have,” Mr Walker said.

“We’re not kids anymore and we needed an income.”

Mr Redlich noted there had been a “succession” of witnesses who had financial needs satisfied by Mr Woodman.

Said to be the “creature of developers”, SCWRAG was incorporated with no bank account, no income, and many members “making up the numbers”.

Mr Walker conceded that not all of its purported 1100 members were active.

Indeed he only had email contact details for up to 600 members, he said.

When a Consumer Affairs Victoria notice informed the group its annual financial statement was overdue, the notice was forwarded to planning consultant Megan Schutz – who had set up the group.

“We have no finances within the structure,” Mr Walker wrote to Ms Schutz on 31 August 2018.

The group operated “loosely” due to time constraints, with “members who just make up the numbers”, he wrote.

Mr Walker told IBAC that all members had originally signed forms supporting the rezoning of Cranbourne West industrial land to residential.

But they dropped off in “resignation” that the campaign had been knocked back four times by Planning Minister Richard Wynne.

Ms Schutz, who worked for developers John Woodman and Leighton at the time, organised funding for SCWRAG expenses.

She set up the group, came up with its name and organised its logo design and incorporation, IBAC has heard.

A lawyer Emily Porter representing SCWRAG in a Planning Panels Victoria hearing was briefed by Ms Schutz. Mr Walker said he didn’t know who paid the lawyer’s fee.

At the panels hearing, SCWRAG was referred to as an “independent voice of the community” and “participatory democracy at work”.

Mr Walker conceded to IBAC that the tribunal would have been under the impression that SCWRAG funded its own lawyer.

Mr Walker told IBAC that Ms Schutz informed him that developer Leighton was funding SCWRAG’s expenses.

He said he later learnt that companies linked to Mr Woodman provided funding for SCWRAG’s campaign.

IBAC has alleged that SCWRAG was funded $193,000 by developers, including payments to Mr Walker.