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Clover under fire for donation disclosures

Questions have been raised over the effectiveness of City of Sydney Council’s Code of Conduct, after suggestions Lord Mayor Clover Moore breached the code at last month’s Council meeting, during a discussion over two Development Applications relating to Souths Leagues Club reports Shant Fabricatorian in City News of 22 October 2009.

At the Council meeting on September 21, two items were discussed in relation to the redevelopment of Souths Leagues Club in Redfern. One was rejected unanimously while the other was deferred. Cr Moore did not declare any interest in the matter.

But according to electoral returns, Cr Moore received $8,380 in contributions from Rabbitohs co-owner Peter Holmes à Court towards her state election campaign in November 2006.

Souths Leagues Club Chairman Bill Alexiou-Hucker confirmed last week the Rabbitohs owned 50 per cent of the Chalmers Street development in Redfern, with the other half belonging to the site’s developer.

According to Council’s Code of Conduct, a councillor is required to disclose any political contributions or donations exceeding $1,000 which directly benefit their campaign in the previous four years as a significant non-pecuniary interest. Councillors in such a position must “have no involvement in the matter”, by absenting themselves from any debate and vote.

But a spokesperson for the Lord Mayor denied there had been a breach of the Code. “The development applications you raise were submitted by District 5 Designs and IGA,” he said.

Development Applications to Council are often submitted by architects on behalf of clients.

“Only one donation has ever been received from Peter Holmes à Court, when he attended a State Parliament campaign fundraising dinner in 2006, and purchased one table for himself, another donated to public housing tenants and also bid for an auction prize,” the spokesperson said.

“Since 2006 several attempts have been made by political opponents to use this one publicly-declared donation to smear the Lord Mayor’s reputation for integrity and independence, which she considers to be both offensive and defamatory.”

Mr Holmes à Court’s status as a donor to Cr Moore’s campaign has previously aroused controversy. In November last year, Cr Moore was alleged to have broken the Code after participating in a Council decision to buy a property in Redfern Street, worth around $2.5 million, from Mr Holmes à Court’s. Cr Moore said at the time she believed her actions to be appropriate.

Two weeks ago, City News reported Liberal Councillor Shayne Mallard had participated in a debate and vote in June, on two Development Applications for hotels owned by George Thomas. His party previously received donations from Argos Investments Pty Ltd, a company part of Mr Thomas’ hotel group.

A spokesperson for City of Sydney Council said complaints must be addressed in writing to the City’s Chief Executive Officer.

Greens MLC Lee Rhiannon questioned the point of a code of conduct if it was ignored by councillors and general managers. “Under the code of conduct passed by the NSW Parliament in June 2008, all councillors are required to declare a significant non-pecuniary conflict of interest, and absent themselves from the relevant debate and vote,” she said. “Sydney Lord Mayor Clover Moore’s failure to abide by this rule is worrying. As a state MP she voted for the rule change.”

Ms Rhiannon said it was irrelevant that the donation had been to Cr Moore’s state campaign. “This case raises a dilemma for MPs who are also councillors, [but] irrespective to which campaign a political donation is made, the same rules do apply.

“When these things come to attention of the Sydney City Council General Manager surely she should have a process to investigate if the councillor concerned has breached the code of conduct.”