What a refreshing change. A crook confesses at ICAC

 Galley cast 2

It was a long time coming and hugely anticipated from the merger of Hurstville and Kogarah in 2016 to create Georges River, with the high profile major players, one Liberal and one Labor, happy to help developers by overriding planning proposals from Council staff. In doing so, they created an environment hostile to staff, particularly senior staff, that explains why Georges River spent over $200,000 in 2019/20 on code of conduct complaints, more than $2.5 million to date on legal costs associated with the current three year ICAC investigation, Operation Galley, and another $1.2 million in the draft budget for 2022/2023 to cover the continuing costs of the investigation.

The ICAC is currently investigating two current councillors, Labor’s Vince Badalati and the Liberals’ Con Hindi (yes Con, maybe better to revert to Constantine now) and one former councillor, independent Phillip Sansom.

These three are being pursued to determine whether they “sought and/or accepted benefits as an inducement or reward for partially and dishonestly exercising their official functions to favour the interests“  of two big developers. The Corruption Commission is also investigating whether between 2014 and 2021 the three councillors “deliberately failed to declare or properly manage any conflict-of-interest arising from their relationships with” the two developers.

But wait there’s more, they are also investigating whether the two developers “provided benefits, including overseas flights and accommodation to Councillors Hindi, Badalati and Sansom, as a reward or inducement to favour their interests in relation to Council decisions regarding planning matters” affecting what have been described as the Treacy Street and Landmark Square developments.

ICAC investigations can be slow and grinding affairs, witnesses hedging, dodging and weaving, but the first witness, former Mayor Badalati, confessed that on two occasions a developer had provided him with a bag of cash, once containing $70,000 and on the second occasion, $100,000. Uh oh, and that he was with Councillor Hindi at the time and he received the same payments

Councillor Hindi has not yet given evidence but there have only been two days of hearings, opening submissions and while Badalati has confessed, Hindi and Sansom are yet to give evidence.

It’s astonishing how much time and effort can be spent on one councillor - in the last 12 months reporting period, Georges River forwarded 28 Code of Conduct complaints to the Office of Local Government, 22 of which related to Hindi. What an astonishing waste of ratepayer funds that could have filled staff positions and provided services.

This is a story that will continue. It comes as an enormous relief to Council staff whose recommendations have been overridden and whose focus on proper, orderly and lawful planning, has been treated with contempt. It’s been a hostile, aggressive and bullying environment for staff and while it’s clear that ICAC will get scalps, it’s more important to normalise relationships between councillors and Council staff, and to have those surviving councillors develop a proper respect for each other’s role. And stop the harassment.

Copyright © 2022 The Development and Environmental Professionals' Association (depa). All Rights Reserved. Webdesign: Dot Online