Tate emerges almost unscathed
A corruption probe has investigated the alleged misuse of council funds and interference in council decisions on the Gold Coast.
The Queensland corruption watchdog has released its report on Operation Yabber – an investigation of City of Gold Coast Council Mayor Tom Tate, his political advisor Wayne Moran and Council’s CEO Dale Dickson.
It looked at a range of allegations including that the Mayor misused his powers and undermined his CEO after his chief of staff Mr Moran meddled in council decisions.
The Queensland Crime and Corruption Commission concluded; “In relation to Moran, the perception that his friends and associates were the beneficiaries of his position at the GCCC was bad enough. However, it is clear that this was also the reality”.
It found that Cr Tate ordered his CEO to not to discipline Mr Moran, “effectively protecting the Chief of Staff from potential disciplinary action”.
Mr Moran became Cr Tate’s chief of staff after working as campaign manager on Cr Tate’s 2012 mayoral election bid.
It was from this position that Mr Moran’s actions raised alarm bells with the CCC, especially after evidence emerged that some developers were receiving favourable treatment. Specific companies were not named in the report.
“Between 2012 and 2019, there were numerous examples of Company A directors seeking favour from Moran directly,” the CCC said.
Reports say Mr Moran told one developer that he was “pursuing this one for you mate”, and assured another; “I’ll stick my nose in”.
Council staff provided evidence to the CCC that Mr Moran often contacted GCCC departments about particular developments, and even sought to meet with developers himself.
“The CEO said he considered Moran a high-risk individual and there had been quite a few occasions where Moran had involved himself in development-related issues, advocating certain outcomes and behaviours expected from the Council,” the report said.
There was also evidence of a close relationship between Mr Moran and the director of “Company B”, which was behind several large projects in the City.
Mr Moran at one point planned a holiday to the Whitsundays with the director, the CCC said.
The council’s CEO, Mr Dickson, several times attempted to discipline Mr Moran for not declaring conflicts of interest, but Cr Tate stepped in to prevent the action.
“Many councillors believed the mayoral power was being misused and that … Moran was untouchable and free to do and act however he wanted,” the report said.
“This created an unhealthy environment which may have deterred staff at [the council] from reporting misconduct against those who were closely aligned with the Mayor, believing the Mayor would intervene to protect those close to him.”
“While Tate’s conduct does not meet the threshold for criminal prosecution, his actions could amount to misconduct pursuant to s150L of the Local Government Act 2009.
“The CCC has, therefore, referred the matter to the OIA [Office of the Independent Assessor]. Moran’s conduct has been referred to the CEO for appropriate disciplinary action,” the CCC said.
The CCC also heard allegations of an inappropriate relationship between Cr Tate and the lawyer of a Chinese developer. It received complaints that the mayor had voted on council matters involving that developer and failed to declare free flights and accommodation in Beijing.
This matter has been referred to the OIA as well.
There were claims that Cr Tate bought luggage, Gold Coast Titans membership, and two selfie sticks on council credit cards, as well as evidence that Cr Tate used official expenditure to make donations up to ten times higher than is permitted under policy.
Cr Tate has described the CCC’s findings as “a fantastic outcome”.
“It’s a bit like this. When you know you’re going to have a thorough examination like a colonoscopy … they’re going to be real thorough. You wake up and he gives you a clean bill of health, couple of polyps … get it out, all examined, happy as,” he told reporters.
Despite the varying degrees of dodginess, the CCC found no “serious and systematic” issues or any grounds for criminal prosecution, but called for a number of reforms to reduce corruption risks.
“Whilst Operation Yabber did not identify such serious and systemic issues found in recent CCC investigations into other councils, it did once again highlight the impacts of not properly declaring and managing conflicts of interests,” the report said.
The CCC recommended amending the local government act to clarify the responsibilities of mayors and councillors for the management of their staff/advisors and their adherence to codes of conduct.
It also wants changes to ensure that mayoral directions (under section 170 of the Local Government Act 2009) cannot be used to undermine the authority of chief executive officers to carry out their responsibilities.
The local government lobby says it is time to move on.
“We need to find a balance between continual investigation and review and enabling councils to get on with the job,” LGAQ CEO Greg Hallam said.