The NSW corruption watchdog has called for tighter control of lobbying in the local government sector after finding a former general manager, a former planning director and two former councillors engaged in serious corrupt conduct.
The ICAC found former Canterbury City Council general manager Jim Montague was pressured by former councillors Michael Hawatt and Pierre Azzi into installing Spiro Stavis as director of city planning so they could influence his decisions.
The commission said although Mr Monatgue didn’t think Mr Stavis was the best person for the job “he improperly allowed himself to by influenced by pressure from Mr Hawatt and Mr Azzi”, including an offer of 20 weeks salary.
The councillors also showed Mr Stavis his job interview questions in advance.
Corrupt planning decisions at the Council were a consequence of both underlying integrity issues and poor controls, and a NSW planning system that lacks effective anti-corruption safeguards.NSW ICAC
The ICAC found Mr Stavis, Mr Hawatt and Mr Azzi engaged in serious corrupt conduct in relation to planning proposals.
They also failed to disclose their relationships with developers when voting on development applications, and Mr Hawatt used his position as a councillor to try to get through development applications involving his daughter and son in law.
Mr Stavis used his position to influence a neighbour’s development application, the ICAC said, and doctored a draft planning proposal submitted to council’s development committee to get rid of critical material.
The activities occurred between 2014 and 2016.
Poor controls and lack of safeguards
The report blamed poor controls within council and a lack of safeguards in the NSW planning system, as well as weak regulation of lobbying in the local government sector.
“Corrupt planning decisions at the Council were a consequence of both underlying integrity issues and poor controls, and a NSW planning system that lacks effective anti-corruption safeguards,” the commission found.
The ICAC makes 23 recommendations including extending the Lobbying of Government Officials Act, which only currently only applies in part to local government.
“The lobbying activities exposed during the investigation suggest a change in the complexity of the local government lobbying landscape,” the report says.
“The Commission is satisfied that there are corruption risks inherent in lobbying in local government such that the LOGO Act should be extended to local government.”
The DPIE should also issue guidelines to increase transparency around lobbying of councillors, it says.
The commission has referred the matter to the DPP to decide about whether anyone should face criminal charges, including former NSW MP Daryl Maguire for misleading ICAC while giving evidence about his involvement with Mr Hawatt and a potential business deal.
The ICAC has recommended charges including blackmail and corruptly offering a benefit against Mr Hawatt and Mr Azzi, and misconduct in public office against Mr Stavis.
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