More than $80,000 in political donations was received by Mayor Karen Williams during the 2016 election disclosure period, enabling her to significantly outspend opponent Greg Underwood.
Many well known local businesses and personalities feature in Karen Williams’ recent disclosure of donations received but our interest was piqued by her declaration of a substantial gift from a donor who seemed to be not local and very unknown.
Bay Street Group and McKenzie Aged Care
In August 2012, just a few months after being elected Mayor, Karen Williams received $5,000 from “Bay Street Group, 240 Bay Street, Brighton 3186”.
This was a substantial political donation by Redland City Council standards. When received by Karen Williams, it was equal to the second largest donation she had ever been given, according to her gift disclosures.
Of the many political donors disclosed by Mayor Williams, Bay Street Group is uniquely not Queensland based. So lots of cash coming from a non-Queensland donor. Why?
An ASIC search revealed the existence of Bay Street Group Pty Ltd whose principal place of business is 240 Bay Street Brighton, 3186. This little known Victorian company shares key personnel with McKenzie Aged Care also operating from 240 Bay Street in Brighton, Victoria.
People with roles in both Bay Street Group Pty Ltd and McKenzie Aged Care Group are:
|McKenzie Aged Care Group||Bay Street Group Pty Ltd|
|Robert Hutchison||Chief Executive Officer||Director|
|Michael Powell||Construction, Property Development and Services||Director|
|Mary-Ann McKenzie||Resident Relations and Marketing||Director|
|Sally McKenzie||Resident and External Relations||Director|
|Source||McKenzie Aged Care Group||ASIC search|
McKenzie Aged Care Group is the developer of two major Redlands accommodation projects.
It seems reasonable to presume that the $5,000 received by Mayor Williams on 1 August 2012 may have come from McKenzie Aged Care Group via the related entity Bay Street Group Pty Ltd.
McKenzie Aged Care Group has been asked why it made this political donation and why the donation was made via Bay Street Group. As yet, they have not responded.
Mayor Williams was asked to explain why this $5,000 gift was not disclosed as being made by the McKenzie Aged Care Group? Her response was:
I have not been aware of any relationship between the two entities.
She went on to say:
I thank you for raising this matter and will ensure it is appropriately dealt with through due process and have referred it to the relevant officer for investigation.
She has not yet responded to our follow up question:
If you have not been aware of any relationship between the two entities, can you advise what you understood at the time this gift was given and received about the nature of “Bay Street Group” and why you thought this Victorian entity chose to give you $5,000?
McKenzie Aged Care projects in Redland City
McKenzie Aged Care Group obtained Redland City Council’s approval for development of two large aged care facilities during Mayor Williams’ first term.
The combined value of construction work for these projects is more than $44 million.
Development application PD231010 for a facility at 260 Old Cleveland Road East in Capalaba (CapellaBay) was approved under delegation in 2014.
Development application MCU013138 for a McKenzie Aged Care Group facility, located on the corner of Smith Street and Bay Street in Cleveland, didn’t fully comply with the planning scheme so it was considered at a general meeting of the Redland City Council on 12 February 2014.
The Smith Street application was approved by councillors on a 9-2 vote with Mayor Williams chairing the discussion, voting on the item and supporting it according to the meeting minutes.
After the meeting, the Redland City Bulletin reported that Mayor Karen Williams backed the project, saying “The location is in line with council’s objectives of creating a health services precinct in the Redlands”.
The meeting minutes don’t record any declaration by the Mayor of any personal interest in relation to this item. If a material personal interest or even a perceived conflict of interest in an item being discussed at a Council meeting is not declared there are serious legal implications.
Section 172 of the Local Government Act stipulates that if a councillor has a material personal interest the councillor must:
(a) inform the meeting of the councillor’s material personal interest in the matter; and
(b) leave the meeting room (including any area set aside for the public), and stay out of the meeting room while the matter is being discussed and voted on.
A maximum penalty of a $22,000 fine or two years imprisonment may apply if a councillor is found guilty of failing to disclose a material personal interest.
Political donation laws in Queensland
Political donation disclosure in Queensland local government involves two requirements:
- Elected officials have to provide and regularly update their statement of interests to their Council CEO. They only disclose the name of any entity providing a gift worth over $500. The address of the donor and specific value of the gift are not detailed.
- Under local government election law, councillors have to provide more detailed information about gifts received once every four years, lodged a few weeks after the election.
Karen Williams noted that she had received a gift from “Bay Street Group” worth more than $500 in an update to her Statement of Interests dated 22 August 2012.
Her recent disclosure to the Electoral Commission of Queensland dated 27 June 2016 was more informative, advising that the amount received from Bay Street Group was $5,000 and the donor’s address was 240 Bay Street, Brighton, 3186.
This additional information, made available nearly four years after the event, shows that the gift’s value was significant. It also locates the donor at the same address as a firm which has had significant regulatory dealings with Redland City Council (McKenzie Aged Care Group).
The Crime and Corruption Commission (CCC) commented in December 2015 on the need for more timely disclosure of political donations and the inconsistency of current disclosure requirements in a public report: Transparency and accountability in local government.
In its response to this CCC report, the Queensland Government recently announced plans to implement real-time on-line disclosure of political donations, with the system expected to be operational by 1 February 2017.
Premier Palaszczuk said: “It means that instead of waiting months to see who is donating to a political party, people will be able to see who is donating and how much they are donating before an election takes place.”
So far, the Labor Government has given no indication that it will follow NSW’s lead in banning developers from making political donations.