Cirty dirt flow

Hamish Heard
Allegations of corruption at Geelong’s City Hall have emerged after a report in last week’s Independent revealed councillors and planning officers were under investigation.
The Independent reported that officers had joined several councillors under the State Ombudsman’s microscope in a probe of alleged conflicts of interest.
The Ombudsman’s office confirmed that complaints about City Hall planning practices had arrived prior to the public release last year of a report into the cash-for-councillors controversy.
This week a local businessman, who did not want to be identified, told the Independent he had complained to the Ombudsman in late 2005 under the Whistleblowers Protection Act.
He said his complaint centred on allegations councillors had manipulated a development panel hearing process to ensure a green light for a proposal from a business identity with links to a councillor.
“I strongly suspect underhand tactics were employed to ensure a certain objective was met and I believe that councillors’ conflicts of interest came into play,” the man said.
“It appeared there was cooperation between councillors and the planning department which resulted in changes to the way that planning procedures were implemented.”
Another source involved in the Ombudsman’s investigation, also protected under whistleblower legislation, said the Ombudsman had raised claims about corruption at City Hall with the office late in 2005.
“I understand from my discussions with the Ombudsman that they have received a large number of complaints ranging from favoured treatment given to some developers through to other developers having their plans thwarted for spurious reasons,” the source said.
“Others, as I understand it, have had their plans put on hold for so long their backers have walked away and there was a question about the role played by certain players in that.”
Member for Corio Gavan O’Connor said “numerous” developers and opponents to proposed developments had flooded his office with complaints about Geelong councillors and planning staff.
“The scale of the complaints was of deep concern to me,” Mr O’Connor said.
“Where such consistent complaints are bought to the attention of a member’s office there is a reasonable assumption that where there’s smoke there’s fire.”

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