A BASS Coast Shire councillor is under investigation by the Victorian Local Government Inspectorate (VLGI).
Cr Les Larke confirmed to the Sentinel-Times today that he is the councillor under investigation but described the allegations of “corruption” as scuttlebutt while also criticising the timing of the release of the information, about the 2018 claims, two days after election nominations closed.
“I’m bound by confidentiality with, I understand, a penalty of up to 600 points ($100,000), for breaching confidentiality,” Cr Larke said.
“But I would refute any of the allegations made whatsoever.
“The timing of the release of this is also very upsetting when it relates to a confidential report made two years ago, in 2018. I am not privy to what was lodged in 2018.
“I have checked it (with the authorities) and I’m bound by confidentiality.”
It has been reported that the issue involves Cr Larke’s efforts to attract the votes of his fellow councillors in a bid to be appointed Mayor in 2018.
The allegations arose out of a meeting allegedly attended by three or four other councillors, and Cr Larke, in October 2018, at which Cr Larke is alleged to have offered to support projects in the various councillors’ wards. The extent to which these offers went beyond the standard horse-trading in politics is believed to be the subject of the VLGI investigation.
Several Bass Coast Shire councillors contacted the Sentinel-Times shortly after the story came to light this morning (Friday, September 25) to clarify that they personally are not under investigation by the Independent Broad-based Anti-corruption Commission (IBAC) as claimed elsewhere today.
In fact it’s one councillor, Cr Les Larke, who is under investigation by the VLGI, the same authority which brought down the South Gippsland Shire Council after investigating several councillors in 2019.
One councillor wrote: “It has come to my attention that the media has released comment that a Bass Coast Councillor is under investigation by IBAC. I am confirming that I am not under investigation by IBAC. I fully understand the legal rules that IBAC work under and it would be inappropriate and possibly unlawful for me to make any further comment.”
It was not the media nor the VLGI which released details of the investigation.
Allegations have been raised that the information has come from another councillor, in breach of serious confidentiality provisions, in an effort to nobble Cr Larke’s election campaign at a time designed to inflict the most damage and when he is unable to defend himself.
But the action has the potential to backfire on the person or persons involved.
Bass Coast Shire Council CEO Ali Wastie told the Bass Coast Post today the council’s chief executive officer reported the matter to IBAC as required by the legislation.
But it has been further alleged that the matter was reported to IBAC back in October 2018 by her predecessor Paul Buckley, but went uninvestigated at the time, and again by Ms Wastie herself in April this year, after receiving an anonymous account of what transpired.
The head of a department, agency or council is obligated to notify IBAC when they have “reasonable grounds to suspect corruption is occurring or has occurred” in the workplace, according to IBAC’s website.
“Mandatory notifications of public sector corruption were introduced in December 2016. This obligation is set out in section 57 of the Independent Broad-based Anti-corruption Commission Act 2011 (the Act).”
IBAC referred the matter to the Victorian Local Government Inspectorate for review, Ms Wastie told the Post.
In answer to an inquiry from the Sentinel-Times, the Local Government Inspectorate confirmed that an investigation is in progress.
The Acting Chief Municipal Inspector Dr John Lynch responded as follows:
“The Local Government Inspectorate is investigating a complaint relating to Bass Coast Shire Council.
“The Inspectorate does not provide comment on investigations that are yet to be finalised.
“The Inspectorate has no further comment to provide at this stage.”
Former President of the Bass Coast Ratepayers and Residents Association, Kevin Griffin, made comment in a private capacity.
“The Victorian Local Government Inspectorate is undertaking its investigation and it’s important that, as mature community members, the people of Bass Coast do not pass judgement ahead of the VLGI,” Mr Griffin said.