Inquiry to probe impropriety allegations against Sydney Council

A NSW parliamentary inquiry has been launched into allegations of impropriety concerning a local council and developers in Sydney’s north-west.

Committee Chair Sue Higginson

The Upper House Planning and Environment Committee chaired by Greens MLC Sue Higginson will inquire into and report on matters relating to The Hills Shire Council and property developers in the region.

Terms of reference include matters relating to the integrity of Council and its employees and elected officials, and the role and influence of developers and their interactions with councillors and members of

The allegations were first raised by local MP Ray Williams under parliamentary privilege last year.

Mr Williams told parliament on June 23 he had heard allegations that senior members of the NSW Liberal Party had been “paid significant funds in order to arrange to put new councillors on The Hills Shire Council” who would support future DAs by developer Toplace, owned by Jean Nassif.

He said Toplace had previously attempted unsuccessfully to get through a proposal for thousands of high rise appartments up to 20 stories high at Castle Hill.

A spokesperson for Toplace described the allegations as ‘nonsensical’.

“Mr Jean Nassif and Toplace have denied the allegations made categorically.  Mr Jean Nassif and Toplace deny having any contact whatsoever with the new councillors on Hills Shire Council,” the spokesperson told Government News.

Council defends DA systems

In a statement, Hills Shire general manager Michael Edgar said Council would assist with the inquiry.

An external audit gave The Hills Shire Council a thumbs up for DA systems.

“Council supports the principles of transparency, open decision making, integrity and good governance,” Mr Edgar said.

However, he said there were other methods for overseeing local government activities and it was ‘most unusual for matters like this to be dealt with by a parliamentary inquiry’.

Mr Edgar defended Council’s systems and processes for managing DAs and said a report released by the NSW Audit Office on December 14 found “Council has an outstanding reputation for development assessment and management processes, as well as professional oversight of its services and programs”.

NSW Auditor General Margaret Crawford found The Hills Shire Council was “managing conflicts of interest in line with Code of Conduct requirements”, but noted “it could more transparently document these.”

Council determined over 3,700 development applications between 1 July 2019 and 30 June 2021.

Significant allegations

Ms Higginson said the allegations raised by Mr Williams were significant and the committee secretariat has started writing to relevant people inviting them to appear.

“Corruption and undue influence are things that do go under the radar, this is precisely why we need these extra processes, whether it’s ICAC or parliamently inquiries, because these things are never easily visible,” she told Government News.

Submissions to the inquiry close on January 22 and hearing dates are set to be confirmed on February 15.

Premier Dominic Perrottet said last year that he had referred the allegations to the ICAC. An ICAC spokeswoman told Government News the commission did not comment on referrals it received.

A Liberal Party spokesperson told The Guardian last year that the party took the allegations ‘very seriously’.

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