CCC Statement - Brisbane City Council Allegations - 15 March 2016
The Crime and Corruption Commission (CCC) has finished its assessment of information relating to the conduct of Brisbane Lord Mayor Councillor Graham Quirk and the other members of Brisbane City Council’s Establishment and Coordination Committee, also known as Civic Cabinet, in connection with the proposed sale of land at Lot 1, 543 Nudgee Road, Nundah to a company associated with Liberal National Party (LNP) donor, Mr Boon Tan.
The Department of Infrastructure, Local Government and Planning (the Department) referred these concerns to the CCC on 26 February 2016.
When the CCC receives a referral, it first assesses the matter to determine whether it is in the CCC’s jurisdiction and, if so, whether a CCC investigation is warranted. In the case of elected officials, the CCC is limited to investigating corrupt conduct that involves the commission of a criminal offence.
In order to inform the assessment, the CCC has considered information provided by the Department and conducted further inquiries, including:
- reviewing documents from the Brisbane City Council’s files, including the submission considered by Civic Cabinet and material sent to the Minister for Infrastructure, Local Government and Planning seeking an exemption from the usual requirement to offer the land for sale by tender or auction;
- obtaining relevant records of political donations made by companies associated with Mr Tan; and
- conducting interviews with the Lord Mayor and Brisbane City Council’s Chief Executive Officer.
From the facts ascertained, the Lord Mayor was approached by Mr Tan about the process required to purchase the land in question. The Lord Mayor advised Mr Tan that an offer could be made to Brisbane City Council’s CEO in the first instance and that any such offer would need to be in the public interest.
The CEO rejected the first offer made by Mr Tan in June 2015 on the basis that the offer did not represent significant value for money. In July 2015, Mr Tan submitted a revised offer, which was accepted by the CEO subject to Civic Cabinet approving the sale and the Minister approving an exemption from the usual requirement for the land to be offered for sale by public tender or auction.
A recommendation to Civic Cabinet to accept the offer was prepared and submitted for consideration of the Civic Cabinet at a meeting chaired by the Lord Mayor on 31 August 2015. The submission advanced a number of reasons why the proposed sale was in the public interest. Civic Cabinet approved the sale. Ultimately, the recommendation was not accepted by the Minister and the transaction did not proceed further.
There was no discussion at the Civic Cabinet meeting that Mr Tan was a donor to the LNP nor did any of the members of the Civic Cabinet inform the meeting they had a conflict of interest in the matter to be discussed.
In 2011, amendments to the City of Brisbane Act 2010 were passed to remove the criminal offence of failing to declare a conflict of interest. Councillors who disobey the requirement of section 175 of the City of Brisbane Act to deal with a real or perceived conflict of interest in a transparent and accountable way, may in some circumstances commit an offence against section 204 of the Queensland Criminal Code 1899.
However, although there was no disclosure of any real or perceived conflict of interest by members of the Civic Cabinet, there were valid reasons other than Mr Tan being a donor to a political party to support the recommendation to the Minister. The CCC has reviewed the recommendation to the Minister and considers that sufficient public interest factors were identified to provide a defensible basis for Civic Cabinet’s decision to approve the sale subject to Ministerial exemption being granted.
Therefore any prospect of proving any criminal offence against section 204 of the Queensland Criminal Code 1899 would be so remote as to not be in the public interest to pursue.
In light of the above, the CCC has resolved to take no further action in relation to the Lord Mayor or any other member of the Civic Cabinet.
The CCC has recently highlighted how certain practices in local government may give rise to perceptions or allegations of corruption.
The CCC continues to remind public officials and elected officials of the importance of transparency and accountability. The CCC encourages the Government to take steps to require decisions-makers to demonstrate clearly that all decisions are equitable, transparent and represent value for money.
In this regard, it is the CCC’s view that allegations such as these may have been avoided by open and transparent declarations of all known interests in or related to a matter for decision. This includes the declaration of any known political donations, whether or not the declaration is required by law.
This matter is now finalised and the CCC will take no further action.