By Cam Lucadou-Wells
Greater Dandenong mayor Jim Memeti has described revelations at an IBAC hearing into alleged corruption with Casey Council and property developer John Woodman as “unbelievable”.
He said he was “shocked” by allegations that Casey councillors Sam Aziz and Geoff Ablett received $1.2 million from the property developer, in return for support of large developments in Cranbourne West.
The IBAC hearing was also told of a $100,000 slush fund for eight Casey councillors during the 2016 election, in which none of them allegedly declared the donation.
Cr Memeti also received a donated helicopter ride from Mr Woodman, which was auctioned off for $3500 at a 2016 election fundraiser. By contrast, Cr Memeti declared the gift a week later.
Earlier in the same year, Cr Memeti and the council backed Mr Woodman’s push to rezone a Green Wedge area in Keysborough South for housing estates.
Mr Woodman was representing Antonio Madafferi, who owned a large tract of land in question.
As an owner of several properties in Greater Dandenong, Cr Memeti said he always declared a conflict of interest if he was in doubt.
“The best bit of advice I’ve had was from (ex-councillor) John Kelly who said if you’re ever in doubt, get out.”
He told Star Journal that he hadn’t met or spoken to Mr Woodman about the donation but received it via a third party.
He hadn’t since been contacted by Mr Woodman with any expectations as a result of the gift, he said.
“At the time, I actually just thought he was promoting his helicopter business.”
Cr Memeti said he’d been contacted by developers about planning applications to “give you their point of view, to see it through their eyes”.
“I also like to hear from my colleague councillors as well. You shouldn’t make up your mind without hearing both sides of the story.”
Cr Memeti said he’d only ever met Mr Woodman at the Noble Park Community Art Show, where the property developer was the major sponsor.
He is the brother of Brian Woodman, the former manager of Noble Park Community Centre and host of the art show who recently resigned.
Cr Memeti said the State Government should wait for the IBAC report before looking at law changes governing property developer donations.
“I’m more than confident that Greater Dandenong is well above board due to having so many experienced councillors there to get through the (decision-making) process.”
Cr Peter Brown, who also backed the Keysborough South rezoning, said he’d declined any donations from property developers.
“It seems that Casey has developed a very unsavoury culture over a number of years.
“I haven’t taken money from anyone. I’ve got enough of my own.
“I don’t want for the sake of a few thousand dollars to destroy all of my hard work.
“I might add that notwithstanding the allegations at Casey that property developers are legitimate businessmen who have the right to advocate for the interest of their clients.”
Cr Brown has met with developers, including an “amicable” discussion with Mr Woodman.
He said he’d at times rejected their arguments. But he was supportive of “inequity” arguments by Green Wedge landowners not having the same development opportunities as others nearby.
“No one had to coerce me to a point of view.
“If you’re being offered brown paper bags of cash to buy that decision, then common sense should tell you it’s unlawful.”
Cr Brown added that he is a distant relative of the Keys family that has owned large tracts of land in Keysborough South.
“There’s not one red cent in it for me.”