WESTERN AUSTRALIA: by Joe PoprzecznyNews Weekly
Political identities probed by corruption body
, November 11, 2006
WA's two most powerful post-war political powerbrokers have been probed by the state's Corruption and Crime Commission (CCC) that is investigating possible manipulation of Busselton shire's May 2005 election, reports Joe Poprzeczny.Western Australia's two most powerful post-war political powerbrokers have been named as key players in moves to influence a local council election on behalf of a developer of a $330 million seaside resort.
Former Labor premier Brian Burke (1983-1988) and one-time Liberal Senator Noel Crichton-Browne were named during the second day of hearings launched by the state's Corruption and Crime Commission (CCC) that is investigating possible manipulation of Busselton shire's May 2005 election.
The two, with former Burke Government minister, Julian Grill, act as a three-man lobby team that's known in Perth's business circles as "the lobbyists of last resort".
The CCC was told the owner of a 45.4 hectare lot at Smith's Beach, Canal Rocks Pty Ltd, wanted the all-clear to develop a resort under regulations Busselton council and several state government planning and environmental agencies intended updating.
Because the company objected to the intended planning amendments, it set out to delay the process with a diverse series of blocking tactics.
At the same time it set about funding seven candidates for the May 2005 council election in the hope of ensuring the new regulations and conditions were further delayed or modified.
The CCC was told that Canal Rocks managing director and Perth real estate agent David McKenzie - a Crichton-Browne friend - hired the Burke-Crichton-Browne-Grill lobbying team.
"The owner of the land, Canal Rocks, was strongly opposed to the amendment," the CCC hearing was told.
"Through various representatives it argued that the amendment imposed more detailed requirements than were necessary.
"The requirements included the formulation of plans dealing with landscaping and rehabilitation, fire management and coast and foreshore management.
"It is fair to say that these requirements look to make development less profitable and, thus, the owner had a powerful interest in the amendment not succeeding.
"This interest is apparent from the fact that the owner brought proceedings in the Supreme Court seeking an injunction against the shire to prevent it from advertising the amendment or referring it to the Environmental Planning Authority."Dominant figure
Burke has been the dominant factional figure in WA's Labor Party since the late 1970s, just before Crichton-Browne emerged as the WA Liberal Party president.
Crichton-Browne, as well as becoming a Liberal senator, played a key role in elevating into parliament three WA Howard Government ministers - Julie Bishop and Senators Ian Campbell and Chris Ellison - although they now no longer associate with him.
However, Crichton-Browne and Burke had the misfortune of facing drawn-out legal actions in the 1990s over aspects of their parliamentary conduct, Burke appearing before the WA Inc. Royal Commission and Crichton-Browne facing a Canberra magistrate's court over travel irregularities.
While Burke served a prison term, Crichton-Browne, who was expelled from the WA Liberal Party in 1996, was only fined.
The third member of the trio, Julian Grill, is seen by many as the architect (with crucial help from Perth gold miner and one-time banker, Harold Abbott) of the discredited "WA Inc.". This was when the Burke-led Labor Government (1983-1988) forged close partnerships with business tycoons and entrepreneurs, including Alan Bond and the late Laurie Connell, resulting in a colossal loss of $1.5 billion to WA taxpayers.
Consequently, Grill himself also faced WA Inc. Royal Commission investigations, about which he has complained in a contribution to the recently-published book, The Years of Scandal: Commissions of Inquiry in WA, 1991-2004
"As each new head of inquiry began, I would be called in for an interview by the police," Grill wrote.
"That included inquiries into the acquisition of the property in Mount Street. They had a real fascination with it."Lord McAlpine
The property was formerly owned by one-time British Conservative Party treasurer, Lord Alistair McAlpine, who invested heavily in WA during the 1980s.
"Alistair McAlpine, [his lawyer] Jack Adams, the valuers, agents, architects, and builder, John Roberts, were all examined on several occasions," Grill continued.
"I would often lie awake at night wondering what new line of inquiry would commence the next day."
However, the current inquiry is unlikely to be as protracted.
The CCC's investigations branch specialises in use of wire taps, wired agents and use of eavesdropping devices.
Several CCC inquiries this year suddenly ended after witnesses heard, while giving evidence, incriminating taped conversations they had had.
The CCC also heard that because WA doesn't regulate lobbyists, no obligation exists for lobbyists "to keep a record of whom they approach or what is said".
"Nor are lobbyists obliged to advise on whose behalf they are acting," it was told.
"Persuasion can include offers of assistance - financial and non-financial - or the obtaining of special treatment or access due to a prior or existing relationship."
Six council candidates were approached with each subsequently receiving funds totalling nearly $50,000 to cover campaign outlays.
Rather than directing the money from Canal Rocks accounts, a retail industry association's bank account was used.
The association, the Independent Action Group (IAG), had employed Burke and Grill as lobbyists during the February 2005 state election campaign at which time a referendum was held.
The IAG was made up of small supermarket owners who were seeking to beat off attempts to liberalise WA's retail trading hours which they believed would boost Woolworths and Coles supermarket turnover at the expense of smaller retailers.
CCC investigators have uncovered banking details linking IAG and Canal Rocks.
"Prior to the Council election, IAG received $6,000 from a company, Kintyre Holdings, which owned land close to that owned by Canal Rocks," the CCC was told.
"This company paid a further $10,000 to IAG after the election.
"Canal Rocks subsequently paid $10,000 to this company and this raises the question of whether Canal Rocks was the true source of the money and this payment was a reimbursement.
"The Canal Rocks Trust paid IAG $10,000 on 12 May 2005, and Canal Rocks Pty Ltd paid $12,788 on 4 August, 2005.
"A further amount of $10,000 was paid to IAG from the account of one of the consultants."
One successful council election candidate, Fraser Smith, told the CCC he visited Canal Rocks' Perth office where he met McKenzie, along with Burke, Crichton-Browne and Grill.
"Mr Burke gave me the impression that what was happening didn't have anything to do with Smith's Beach," Smith said.
"He [Burke] said to me, 'I can safely say, hand on heart, that I - or this - has nothing to do with Smith's Beach.'
"He put his hand to his heart, which is why I recalled him saying that."Visited
After that meeting, Smith was regularly e-mailed by Burke and visited by Crichton-Browne.
The CCC's hearings are expected to last three weeks.
As well as Burke, Crichton-Browne and Grill, the witness list will include several public servants employed within the Departments of Planning and Infrastructure and Conservation and Land Management, and the Environmental Planning Authority.
"It is the objective of these hearings to determine whether there has been misconduct by Busselton shire councillors and by public officers of government departments," the inquiry heard.
"That possible misconduct relates to obligations in relation to the disclosure of electoral funding and whether decision-making processes had been improperly influenced."- Joseph Poprzeczny is a Perth-based freelance journalist and historical researcher.