The matters exposed at IBAC have clearly eroded the council’s legitimacy. If nothing else, there can be little public confidence in the council’s planning decisions, which are a central function of local councils. For that reason, even if not all individual members of the council have been accused of entering Mr Woodman’s orbit, the council’s position as a whole is now untenable.
And yet, Casey’s councillors were – on New Year’s Eve, no less – meeting to rush through plans for a committee of hand-picked experts to make certain planning decisions on their behalf. Those Casey councillors might believe the appointment of a purportedly external committee would ward off state government concerns about the lack of integrity, the failure of governance and the potential for further corruption. But by surrendering one of the key responsibilities of those elected to local government, the councillors have done little to justify their continuing paid contributions.
Their efforts are likely to be in vain. The government is believed to be preparing to sack the lot of them within weeks. This cannot be done immediately because removing a council requires the passage of special legislation. Parliament needs to be reconvened; a sacking cannot be done unilaterally. But deposing Casey council and appointing an administrator as soon as possible is certainly the right thing to do.
Commissioner Robert Redlich, QC, has made it clear that IBAC’s corruption concerns are not limited to the City of Casey. This year IBAC’s Operation Sandon will explore what he called “broader systemic issues” that impinge the integrity of planning laws at all levels in Victoria, including inside state government.
Other councils may well find themselves in IBAC’s sights. Some, such as the City of Kingston and the Shire of Mornington, have already launched unprecedented reviews of their own planning decisions.
We hope this inquiry leads to profound changes in the way planning decisions are made in this state.
One proposal might be to tax the windfall obtained from land rezoning. Another is to capture the value, a system already in place in the Australian Capital Territory.
One of the most troubling issues The Age will continue to pursue with vigour is the regime that allows property developers to grease decision-makers, including councillors and political parties, with donations. The patent conflict of interest that presents is simply unacceptable.