The West Australian (15 Feb 07)
1 Mar 07
A general manager of property developer Australand has admitted his company “indirectly” funded the re-election campaign of a pro-development mayor south of Perth by channelling money through a local fishing company.
Chris Lewis, general manager of Australand’s WA division, also admitted his company, in league with disgraced former premier-turned-lobbyist Brian Burke, used an “independent” interest group as a vehicle for pushing its interests.
The Corruption and Crime Commission (CCC) has been examining whether funding for Cockburn Mayor Stephen Lee’s 2005 re-election campaign ultimately came from Australand, which is building a $500 million marina at Port Coogee, in Cockburn.
Mr Lewis said Australand wanted Mr Lee re-elected because he was supportive of the company’s plans, and he and Mr Burke took an active role in his campaign, giving advice and organising fundraising.
Mr Lewis also described how Australand paid $43,500 of the $65,000 fee charged by Riley Mathewson Public Relations (RMPR), which ran Mr Lee’s campaign, by paying the money through the Marta Fishing Company, owned by a local pro-development businessman.
“Indirectly, we made a contribution to support Stephen Lee,” Mr Lewis conceded under questioning.
Mr Lewis admitted this arrangement was made so it would be less obvious Australand was paying for a substantial portion of Mr Lee’s campaign.
He said Mr Lee, who is expected to be called to give evidence next week, had been aware of Australand’s involvement in his re-election campaign.
Mr Lewis also admitted Australand secretly paid all of the PR expenses, again through Marta, of Port Coogee Now (PCN), a local pro-development interest group.
“We wanted to ensure that PCN was seen as a community group, and independent to Australand,” Mr Lewis said, explaining the payment arrangements.
Mr Lewis accepted PCN had essentially been a vehicle which Australand used to advance its interests.
He told the CCC that in addition to initially paying Mr Burke’s firm a $5,000 per month retainer – later upgraded to $10,000 – and a $165,000 success fee for its lobbying services, he agreed to give Mr Burke “priority” on parcels of land at Port Coogee.
Cockburn Deputy Mayor Richard Graham on Thursday said he had been astonished to learn Mr Lee’s campaign had cost so much, saying similar campaigns usually cost about $10,000.
Former RMPR consultant Peter Herkenhoff, who ran the firm’s PCN account, told the CCC he felt there was an “element of subterfuge” to a scheme to use PCN as a “veil” for people to contribute funds to Mr Lee, which Mr Burke told him about in an email.
Cockburn is one of several areas being scrutinised by the CCC in its efforts to establish whether improper influence or pressure from lobbyists – particularly Mr Burke and business partner Julian Grill – had led to misconduct by public officials.
The hearings continue.
As at February 2006, Australand had approximately 12,700 security holders and a market capitalisation of approximately $1.8 billion. Its major security holder is the Singapore based property group, CapitaLand Limited, which owns approximately 53% of the issued capital.