Sunday, 24 May 2009

Liberal Councillor found ducking and weaving

Newcastle Greens
24 May 2009

Recent public statements by Newcastle Liberal Councillor Brad Luke about the sources of his election campaign funding contradict what he has told a council meeting, according to Newcastle Greens Councillor Michael Osborne.

In response to criticisms from Cr Osborne regarding Cr Luke’s blank election funding disclosure form, an article in Saturday’s Newcastle Herald (“Check draws and blank”, p.14) quoted Cr Luke as saying that “the money that was used to get him elected was donated to the Liberal Party. Money was raised by the party and expenses incurred by the party.”

Yet Cr Luke told a meeting of Newcastle City Council’s Development Applications Committee on 27 January this year that he “had not received any funds from the Liberal Party” (see excerpt of official council minutes below).

“In January, Cr Luke was telling us that the Liberal Party did not fund his election campaign, and now he’s telling us it did,” Cr Osborne said.

“Which version is true?

Cr Luke’s original denial of Liberal Party funding was in response to a complaint that he had not disclosed a conflict of interest in a development at Wallsend.

On that occasion, Cr Luke argued that the developer (Hilton Grugeon) was a donor to the Liberal Party, and that - because the Liberal Party had not provided any funding to his election campaign - he could not therefore have a conflict of interest.

“It’s not acceptable for Cr Luke to now simply change his story to explain his blank electoral funding disclosure form,” Cr Osborne said.

“Councillor Luke’s rubber-stamp approach to development has already prompted community concerns about conflicts of interest, and Cr Luke owes it to the Newcastle community to clarify which explanation is correct, and to tell the whole truth, the full truth and nothing but the truth about who funded his election campaign and how the money was spent.

Cr Osborne said that the matter also had serious implications for the Liberal Party.

“The Herald story quotes Cr Luke as saying that the Liberal Party advised him to leave his electoral funding disclosure form blank.”

“Cr Luke’s party is putting itself forward as the alternative government at the next NSW election, so it’s important that they now clarify their approach to full and open electoral funding disclosure.

“Cr Luke’s example suggests that the Liberal Party would be no better in this than the current state Labor government,” Cr Osborne said.

Below is the full transcript (from the officially adopted minutes of Newcastle Council’s Development Applications Committee of 27 January 2009 [these can be found on the council website.]

Councillor Brad Luke

Councillor Luke made a statement in relation to Item 2 – Review of Council Resolution Regarding DA 06/0675 – 71-79 Abbott Street, 67 Douglas Street & 108-114 Newcastle Road Wallsend particularly in reference to the Code of Conduct complaints. He advised that he had not mentioned Mr Hilton Grugeon when he presented the development application. He believed most people knew it was Mr Grugeon who had presented the DA. He raised two points – Mr Grugeon had donated funds to the Liberal Party and he had donated funds to several political parties over the years however Councillor Luke made a statement that this had not raised a conflict of interest for him as he had not received any funds from the Liberal Party so therefore could not have gotten a benefit from any of Mr Grugeon’s contributions and any contribution Mr Grugeon made to his campaign was below the amount required. Councillor Luke stated he would only be required to assess whether their would be a conflict of interest. He stated that after making that assessment, following discussions with Council’s Legal Services Officer, he had no conflict of interest in regard to this matter.

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