FRIDAY’S bombshell alleging corruption, tracheary and the release of confidential information at the Bass Coast Shire Council has escalated with new allegations published in the Melbourne Age today.
In an article by investigative reporters Cameron Houston and Chris Vedelago, it has been claimed that Bunurong Ward Councillor Les Larke, a candidate in the October council elections, offered five of his council colleagues $5 million of his own money for projects in their wards if they voted him in as mayor in November 2018.
Describing Cr Larke as a Maserati-driving multi-millionaire, the article quotes an email, allegedly between former Mayor Cr Pam Rothfield and the then CEO Paul Buckley, in which it is claimed Cr Larke repeated his offer to councillors, including the present-mayor Cr Brett Tessari, on several occasions at a meeting on Wednesday, October 31, 2018.
Cr Larke, in an exclusive interview with the Sentinel-Times last Friday, hotly denied the claims as ridiculous while turning the allegations back on his accusers over the timing of the release of confidential information, little more than a week before voting commences in the 2020 poll.
But it’s not the first time that someone has tried to nobble the outcome of a Bass Coast Shire Council election.
Back in 2012, the Australian Services Union was implicated in the establishment of a bogus community group, called the Bass Coast Ratepayers’ Group, initially endorsed on the shire’s own website as a legitimate community organisation but then removed after doubts were raised about the group’s credibility.
Among other things, the allegedly bogus group issued a ‘How to vote’ card aimed at destroying the campaign of former Victorian Parliamentary Liberal Leader Allan Brown, a candidate in the 2012 council election, claiming that Mr Brown’s promise of keeping rates to the CPI “could only amount to cuts to services and therefore, to jobs”.
Ironically it was the Andrews Government which capped rates, effectively to the CPI, or 2.5% in 2016.
A spokesperson for the community group, who was also listed as a training officer for the ASU, said protecting and expanding services in Bass Coast, and protecting the jobs of the shire staff members who delivered those services, was a central goal for the group.
Ultimately Mr Brown topped the poll in Hovell Ward with 1313 first preference votes, but Neil Rankine (1192) won the seat on preferences.
It was at the same election that Bass MP Jordan Crugnale came to office in Bass Coast, ultimately winning a term as mayor, at the start of her political career locally.
There is no suggestion that the Australian Services Union is involved this time but if what the Age claims is correct, that three councillors released confidential emails in support of an allegedly anonymous tip-off “from the public”, they too could have a case to answer.
Whatever the situation, the outcome of the 2020 Bass Coast Shire Council elections, just as it was in 2012, has been severely compromised.