By Shane Scanlan
Former Melbourne councillor Richard Foster has received a good behaviour bond for his role in Brooke Wandin’s unlawful candidate nomination in the 2016 council elections.
This is despite organising her enrolment at his Kensington home address and later “dobbing” her in to the Victorian Electoral Commission (VEC) as well as initially denying involvement to the Local Government Investigations and Compliance Inspectorate.
Magistrate Graeme Keil told Mr Foster he considered the matter a serious offence which meddled with the fabric of our democracy. He said democratic freedoms were hard to gain, but easy to lose.
He told Mr Foster he was “otherwise a good man” who was motivated to assist less fortunate members of society.
Mr Foster’s lawyer James Catlin claimed it was reasonable for Mr Foster to deny the charge until he had seen Ms Wandin’s witness statement, which was only provided to him in mid-2017.
Mr Catlin portrayed his client as an accomplice of Ms Wandin and, he said, as a matter of parity, should also receive a diversion or, failing that, a bond.
But prosecutor Elizabeth Ruddle disputed this based on Mr Foster’s “post-offence” conduct. She pointed out that Ms Wandin had been co-operative from the beginning, whereas Mr Foster had made no admissions and had offered “false denials”.
Ms Ruddle said Mr Foster had “dobbed in” Ms Wandin and later claimed he had no idea how it all happened.
She said that, given the lateness of his guilty plea, there was no evidence or indication of any remorse from Mr Foster.
Mr Catlin told Magistrate Keil his client had not gained from the incident. But Ms Ruddle pointed out that it was Mr Foster’s intention to gain political advantage from the matter.
Court documents show that Mr Foster fell out with Ms Wandin and her running mate Nicolas Frances Gilley after they both incorrectly enrolled in the councillor election rather than the lord mayoral contest as agreed.
They were supposed to run for the positions of lord mayor and deputy to funnel votes through to Mr Foster in the councillor contest.
Mr Foster failed to be re-elected to the council, but in a surprise result, Ms Wandin was elected to the council.
Following Mr Foster’s complaint to the VEC, Ms Wandin was disqualified and, after a series of court cases, Mr Frances Gilley was declared elected.
Mr Catlin told the court Mr Foster has already suffered reputational damage from press reports of electoral fraud. He said Mr Foster’s political career was over as a result.
He said Mr Foster was trying to reestablish himself as a private education provider and a conviction would prevent this as his client needed to be “a fit and proper person”. He said a conviction would be a “crushing blow” and that his client had “real regret” and was “saddened and embarrassed” by his actions.
Mr Catlin said Mr Foster was trying to help Ms Wandin and his conduct was “of a lesser nature than that of Ms Wandin”.
Mr Keil asked Mr Catlin: “Why did they do what they did?” He replied: “It was either a massive brain fade or an incandescent act of stupidity.”
The court heard current councillor Jackie Watts had provided a reference for Mr Foster.
Ms Ruddle applied for legal costs from Mr Foster. She said at least $20,000 had been accrued in prosecuting Mr Foster and about $33,000 had been spent if the cost of also dealing with Ms Wandin was taken into account.
In answer to a question from Mr Keil, she said a further $15,000 in internal staff time had been spent on the case.
Mr Catlin objected, saying the prosecution had incurred unnecessary costs, such as potentially $6000 or $7000 on a hand-writing expert, when Mr Foster had actually admitted filling out his address on the nomination form which Ms Wandin had signed. He said Mr Foster had admitted: “It looks like my handwriting”.
Ms Ruddle said the consultant expert was necessary because Mr Foster had flatly denied involvement, saying: “No I didn’t fill out anything on Brooke’s form.”
Costs were awarded against Mr Foster, with the final amount to be negotiated between the parties.