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Merlino, six other Labor figures took donations from ‘kingmaker’ Woodman

On Tuesday the inquiry heard Mr Woodman and his companies donated $4000 to Mr Merlino as part of significant backing to state Labor ahead of the 2018 election which totalled nearly $160,000.

Other MPs revealed to receive donations were Carrum MP Sonya Kilkenny, who was given $3100 and Ringwood member Dustin Halse, who received $5000.

Victorian Education Minister James Merlino.

Victorian Education Minister James Merlino. Credit:Jason South

Counsel assisting IBAC, Michael Tovey, QC, repeated IBAC’s claim that senior minister Martin Pakula got $20,800 from Mr Woodman’s planning consultancy Watsons. Mr Pakula has disputed the size of that donation.

Other Labor candidates to receive donations were Ferntree Gully candidate Julie Buxton, who received $5000 and Macedon MP Mary-Anne Thomas, who was given $10,000.

The threshold for MPs to declare donations is $13,800.

The balance of Woodman-linked donations, worth $90,000, went to Labor fundraising arm Progressive Business and the previously disclosed $20,000 to Cranbourne candidate Pauline Richards.

Mr Tovey stressed on Monday that in its thorough investigation, IBAC had found “no impropriety” by any member of government.

Premier Daniel Andrews with Sonya Kilkenny on election day last year.

Premier Daniel Andrews with Sonya Kilkenny on election day last year.Credit:Timna Jacks

However he said IBAC was concerned that through his “cultivation” of MPs Mr Woodman may have “sought undue access”.

The Cranbourne West rezoning – potentially worth more than $100 million to Leighton and millions to Mr Woodman – required the approval of Planning Minister Richard Wynne.

In intercepted calls Mr Woodman, who has been described by Mr Tovey as a City of Casey “kingmaker”, said that he feared going to jail for some of the deals he had done over the rezoning bid.

“I don’t know how you and I … are not going to finish up in jail or somewhere, uh, in a very un-nice place if I start writing the sort of email that I should be writing if I am going to tell the truth,” Mr Woodman was recorded saying to Mr Kenessey in January.

When pressed by Mr Tovey, Mr Woodman denied he was a criminal. “Talking about going to jail was a loose term,” he said.

Mr Woodman at one point on the wire tap said the best person to influence Mr Wynne’s decision on rezoning was Ms Richards, the newly elected MP for Cranbourne.

“She knows what is going on. We briefed her before I gave her another $20,000. It’s a matter of her going in armed with the necessary bullshit to see [Mr Wynne’s chief-of-staff Peter] Keogh.”

Ms Richards has rejected Mr Woodman’s allegations.

“Donations to my account were never contingent on my support for anything,” she said outside parliament on Tuesday.

Ms Richards said she had met Mr Woodman three times – twice at large events and once for a brief meeting – and had never made representations on his behalf.

Mr Wynne said Ms Richards had not approached him about any planning matters in the City of Casey.

Premier Daniel Andrews, who described Ms Richards as a “fine person of the highest calibre and the highest standards” said it wasn’t appropriate to comment on claims made at the ongoing IBAC hearings.

Mr Pallas was also asked about the issue in question time, with the opposition wanting to know which projects were discussed during a meeting he had with John Woodman’s son.

“I will not make any comment about matters that are currently before an IBAC investigation,” he said.

The inquiry on Tuesday heard numerous phone intercepts involving Mr Woodman over the past year.

In one Mr Woodman was heard boasting that he helped arrange the appointment of the City of Casey’s current chief executive and expected to get favourable treatment from him.

In a December 2018 phone tap Mr Woodman said Casey’s chief executive Glenn Patterson “only got the job ’cause of us”. He told planning consultant and colleague Megan Schutz that as a result, Mr Patterson better “f—en shape up or f— off.”

Ms Schutz replied that Mr Patterson had been much more useful than previous Casey chief executives to their interests. “I can tell you now it is a lot easier with all our projects now we have him in the role and not a f—wit like Steve Dalton or [Mike] Tyler.”

Mr Woodman said: “I couldn’t agree with you more”

The inquiry was shown new surveillance photos of Mr Woodman meeting with his Liberal Party-linked lobbyist Lorraine Wreford at Serano Patisserie in St Kilda Road in January 2019.

The photos also showed an employee of Mr Woodman withdrawing the cash from an ATM and then coming to Serano Patisserie and handing it to Mr Woodman. Ms Wreford later gave that cash to Casey councillor Sam Aziz.

City of Casey councillor Sam Aziz, developer John Woodman, Liberal-linked lobbyist Lorraine Wreford and planning consultant Megan Schutz meet at the Sandhurst club on March 22, 2018.

City of Casey councillor Sam Aziz, developer John Woodman, Liberal-linked lobbyist Lorraine Wreford and planning consultant Megan Schutz meet at the Sandhurst club on March 22, 2018.

The inquiry had been previously told that Cr Aziz would get $25,000 a month on “consultancy” fees from Mr Woodman, of which $2000 was paid in cash, typically by Ms Wreford, a former state MP.

The inquiry also heard fresh evidence on the dealings between Casey councillor Geoff Ablett and Mr Woodman with talks earlier this year between the pair over Mr Woodman arranging an up to $70,000 discount on a house and land package for Cr Ablett’s daughter.

The deal never went through.

The inquiry on Tuesday heard allegations of Mr Woodman’s role in the removal of Mr Tyler, who was a senior executive at Casey for more than 20 years, and a thorn in Mr Woodman’s side over a major rezoning of industrial land in Cranbourne West.

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Ms Schutz said, in the taped conversation with Mr Woodman , that reporting by The Age in late 2018 on the rezoning attempt had hurt them badly.

“The whole media thing and what the officers have done has f—ed Cranbourne West, has f—ed Cranbourne West, which is a project worth $200 million.”

Mr Woodman said he was suing council officers, accused of leaking to The Age and wanted $2 million in compensation, he said in the taped conversation.

Mr Woodman has also previously threatened The Age with a lawsuit for defamation.

Mr Woodman, under questioning, later denied that Mr Patterson had only got the job because of his lobbying and said he did not know him before he was appointed in September 2018.

He said he had been “big noting” on the taped conversation.

Earlier, councillor Geoff Ablett described, on another phone tap, of how he had Mr Tyler removed from his job.

“Eventually I started gathering the information. After six weeks we had him in the corner, and then I f—ing nailed him”

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Mr Woodman, under questioning, conceded he was of the view that there were questions about whether Mr Tyler’s “time was up” as chief executive.

He agreed Mr Tyler had been an impediment to him getting Leighton’s Cranbourne West rezoning through.

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