Lunches with ‘you-know-who’ off the menu

A lunch with Premier Daniel Andrews, pictured, was snapped up at a fundraising auction by developer John Woodman.

By Cam Lucadou-Wells

Developer John Woodman spent more than $10,000 to dine privately with Premier Daniel Andrews in in the top-end Flower Drum restaurant in 2017, an IBAC inquiry has heard.

Mr Woodman successfully bid $8500 for the prize at an auction at a fundraising dinner for ALP Greek MPs in 2016.

He then paid for a private room and lunch for seven at the Flower Drum on 13 September 2017.

At the table were Mr Andrews, Mr Andrews’ adviser, South-East Metropolitan MP Lee Talarmis as well as Mr Woodman and his team.

They included Mr Woodman’s hired planning consultant Megan Schutz, his hired ALP lobbyist Philip Staindl and his son and developer Heath Woodman.

Counsel assisting the Operation Sandon inquiry, Michael Tovey, asked “what was in it for Mr Woodman?” for his $10,000-plus investment.

“I think he’s put it down to relationship building and continuing on his support,” Mr Staindl told the hearing.

At the time, Mr Woodman was seeking the rezoning of Cranbourne West industrial land for housing – also known as Amendment C219.

But Mr Staindl insisted that Mr Woodman’s specific planning projects were not talked about over lunch.

“There was a specific recommendation by me, and one which he carried out, not to discuss any planning related matter over that lunch,” Mr Staindl said.

“I didn’t think it was appropriate.

“It may have placed the Premier in an awkward position.

“It would have detracted from the social value of (the lunch). Because the event was purchased at a fundraising night the optics wouldn’t have been good.”

However, Mr Woodman’s “notion of housing affordability” was one of the subjects discussed, Mr Staindl said.

About a month later, politicians felt a “sense of unease” being seen with Mr Woodman when The Age reported he was doing planning work for the Madafferi family in Keysborough.

At the IBAC hearing, counsel assisting the inquiry Michael Tovey read aloud excerpts from an email by Mr Staindl stating Mr Woodman should keep a “low profile”.

“Intimate events” like the Flower Drum with “you know who” were off the schedule till the end of the year, Mr Staindl allegedly wrote.

“The nervous nellies in the Premier’s office” didn’t want a close association with “anyone named Madafferi”.

Mr Andrews, who had roundly attacked former opposition leader Matthew Guy over the ’lobster with a mobster’ affair, has said he wasn’t aware of Mr Woodman’s link to an alleged Mafia figure at the time of the lunch.

In 2019, Mr Andrews defended a 2002 donation from Mr Woodman as well as the lunch.

At the time, Mr Andrews said the $2500 donation to his 2002 state election campaign was “declared as it should have been at the time – 17 years ago.“

He said the lunch in 2017 was “principally“ about sponsoring a charity golf day.

“He’s never raised active planning matters with me otherwise I would have stood up and left.“

The Sandhurst Club “Golf for Cribs” Premier’s Monash Children’s Hospital Golf Day on 17 November, 2017 was sponsored by Mr Woodman’s company Watsons.

It raised “in the order of $400,000“ for Monash Children’s, Mr Andrews said.

Mr Talarmis was at the lunch due to being the co-ordinator of the Greek MPs dinner the year before, Mr Staindl told the inquiry.

“I think Mr Woodman had established a relationship with Mr Tarlamis independent of me.

“It was probably through the Greek MPs’ function, because Tarlamis coordinated that function.”

Mr Talarmis used to be based in an electorate office with Mr Andrews and recently retired MP Gavin Jennings in Noble Park, Mr Staindl said.