Sacked councillor backs corruption watchdog inquiry
A SACKED Ipswich councillor says he backs calls by the head of the Local Government Association of Queensland for an independent inquiry into the state’s corruption watchdog after charges were dropped against dismissed Logan councillors this week.
Fraud charges against eight former Logan councillors were dropped two years after they were first charged and then subsequently dismissed by then-local government minister Stirling Hinchliffe.
The Director of Public Prosecutions decided on Thursday not to continue with the prosecution of the councillors.
Former Mayor Luke Smith still faces other criminal offences resulting from a Crime and Corruption Commission probe with these matters still before the court.
Smith has been committed to stand trial on two counts of misconduct in public office
LGAQ CEO Greg Hallam said the organisation has written to Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk to request an independent review of the actions of the CCC in this case and wants chairperson Alan MacSporran to stand down while it takes place.
Mr Hallan has called for the councillors to be provided with compensation and a public apology for their sacking.
“Careers, lives and reputations were ruined and a democratically elected council wrongly sacked before these erroneously laid charges could be properly tested by the courts,” Mr Hallam said.
“There must be an independent review to ensure this is not allowed to happen again.
“The LGAQ has always maintained the CCC overstepped the mark by wading into an industrial relations dispute – an area over which it does not have jurisdiction – and charging each of these councillors with a serious criminal offence.
“The unprecedented actions of the CCC in this case set about a chain of events that irreparably damaged the lives and reputations of those involved and disenfranchised the Logan community as a consequence of the sacking of the entire council in May 2019.”
LOCAL NEWS: Ipswich commits to 2032 Olympic Games
David Pahlke was dismissed alongside his Ipswich colleagues in August 2018 by the state government after an extensive investigation by the Crime and Corruption Commission.
Mr Pahlke was never charged with an offence.
The state moved to dismiss the councillors three months after former Mayor Andrew Antoniolli was charged with fraud.
Mr Antoniolli was found guilty of 13 fraud offences in 2019 but was acquitted in December.
The QT revealed in January that an appeal has been filed over the decision to overturn the conviction and sentence.
The CCC’s Operation Windage resulted in disgraced former mayor Paul Pisasale being charged and later convicted.
He is currently serving a jail term.
None of the other Ipswich councillors sacked in 2018 have been charged with any offences and veteran representatives Paul Tully and Sheila Ireland were returned to office in last year’s election.
The CCC report into its investigations found a rotten culture had been allowed to fester at Ipswich City Council for years, prior to the council’s dismissal.
It said the most serious manifestations of this were a lack of oversight and accountability for expenditure and public resources, the use of mechanisms to avoid scrutiny of actions, inappropriate relationships between the council and the private sector and the improper use of power and influence for personal benefit.
Mr Pahlke, who served as a councillor for almost 30 years, said Mr Hinchliffe had made the wrong call to sack both Ipswich and Logan councillors and he should be stood down.
“There’s a lot of similarities between Logan and Ipswich,” he said.
“How do we get justice?
“How do we get vindication?
“That's the question I keep asking myself. Things happened we didn’t even know about.
“Lives and livelihoods have been destroyed by what they’ve done. I think it’s important an independent inquiry is done by a retired barrister or judge.”
Mr Pahlke said he believed councillors deserved compensation and a public apology.
“It was reported in the media on 10 July 2018 that then Local Government Minister Stirling Hinchliffe took his advice from the chair of the CCC regarding Ipswich City Council,” he said.
“The comment made during this interview on ABC radio was that ‘the chair of the CCC wants me to take this action, I have been speaking to him about this matter’.
“This action was taken before any person who had been charged had the matters tested by a court of law.”
Mr Hinchliffe, who is now Minister for Tourism, Industry Development, Innovation and Sport, did not respond to questions from the QT.
A spokesman for Mr Hinchliffe said “these were matters for the Crime and Corruption Commission”.
Mr MacSporran said “it is difficult to see” how there could be calls for an inquiry into the CCC’s conduct in relation to the Logan council matters.
“There has been some criticism levelled at the CCC for charging these individuals, and questions raised as to the validity, legitimacy and propriety of the CCC’s investigation,” he said.
“The CCC has at all times acted within the bounds of its powers and jurisdiction when assessing the allegations, when conducting the investigation and when deciding to charge the subject officers.
The (Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions) considered the briefs of evidence and decided to prosecute these matters, as in their view at that time, there was a prima facie case and reasonable prospect of convictions.
“There can be no legitimate claim or criticism that the CCC had no jurisdiction to investigate, or that it was misconceived or somehow inappropriate, to charge these individuals.
“The Queensland community expects a strong, independent agency to investigate allegations of corruption.
“While the CCC accepts the ODPP’s decision to discontinue these prosecutions, it will not deter this agency from investigating serious allegations of corrupt conduct, and where warranted, placing people before the courts.”
Read more stories by Lachlan McIvor here.