Council compromised by donations

City of Melbourne councillors were unable to consider a planning application last month because too many of them had received election campaign contributions from the developer.
On November 11, the Future Melbourne Committee was left without a quorum and was, therefore, unable to consider a Southbank planning matter relating to developer Central Equity.
Central Equity already has a planning permit for the site at 199 City Rd but has asked the Minister for Planning for permission to increase the height of the building from 105m to 148m and the number of apartments from 382 to 557.  The site falls within a 100m discretionary height zone.
The Minister has asked the council for its view on the application but councillors were unable to consider the matter because four of the eight councillors present declared a conflict of interest and left the room.
Councillors declaring a conflict were Cr Ken Ong, Cr Susan Riley, Cr Kevin Louey and Cr Beverley Pinder-Mortimer.
In the absence of a direction from councillors, council officers will respond the Minister on Central Equity’s application.
Of the four affected councillors, only Cr Riley responded to a question from CBD News on whether or not, in hindsight, it was appropriate to accept developer contributions.
“I think at the time we were, I won’t say misinformed, but I think we were unaware of the consequences of the team taking donations,” Cr Riley said.
“I don’t think any of us realised the consequences such as what happened tonight.”
Cr Cathy Oke disagreed saying that, at the last election, The Greens were fully aware that donations accepted by a team would apply to all members.
“It has always been clear,” Cr Oke said.
Greens councillor Rohan Leppert said: “We were unable to conduct business today so, whether or not the current law is being adhered to, the point needs to be made that the current law can result in quorum being lost and in decisions not being made and that, in and of itself, is proof that the current system needs to be reviewed.”
Cr Stephen Mayne said that, despite supporting a ban on developer contributions, he defended the affect councillors saying a “conservative opinion” had been provided as to the breadth of the conflict.
He pointed out that the same discipline was not expected of state MPs.
“I don’t think it’s a major issue of loss of governance or loss of process in the City of Melbourne,” Cr Mayne said.  “I don’t think it’s a major problem.”

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