FORMER Melville mayor Russell Aubrey has flagged pushing for an internal investigation into the source of $37,000 which was anonymously channelled through a charity into the election campaigns of seven current councillors and mayor George Gear, if he makes a successful comeback in next month’s local government elections.
During the 2019 election which saw Mr Aubrey deposed on the back of concerted campaigns against the controversial wave park in Alfred Cove and development in the Canning Bridge precinct, the Swan Foreshore Protection Association provided around $21,000 to the campaigns of Mr Gear and councillors Margaret Sandford, Glynis Barber, Tomas Fitzgerald and Nick Pazolli.
Two years later the SFPA put in another $16,000 to help councillors Clive Ross and Jane Edinger get onto council. Mr Ross was a founder of the association, but says he’s no longer a member.
Under the Local Government (Elections) Regulations, candidates only have to declare the charity’s contribution to their campaigns, not the original source.
Mr Aubrey says that’s not good enough, and he wants to know who put up the money to ensure no council decisions have been made to benefit any donors without the required declarations of interests being made by councillors.
“That’s the big ‘why am I running for council’; primarily to get that story out there.”
Mr Aubrey says the council is making big decisions in the Canning Bridge Activity Centre, such as recommending rezoning some areas under a current review, and converting its own multi-million dollar development sites into open space, which could benefit neighbouring developers by raising their land value. He says with the stakes so high, transparency should be at the forefront.
Mr Aubrey said if elected he would ask about the funding, but if he can’t get an answer will push for an investigation.
Cr Ross told the Herald the declarations were made in accordance with the law, and he believes the SFPA’s donors have a right to anonymity.
He says raising the donations was a political adversary “clutching at straws” and there was “simply no basis” to concerns developers were benefiting from council decisions.
“For example, look at my record and you’ll see that I have voted against every one of them,” he says of recent high-rise developments before the council.
Cr Ross said the SFPA was originally established “for the public good” and part of its mission was to find and support people who would listen to the community and sort out the council’s problems.
He says none of the donors to the SFPA have ever asked him for a favour.
Mr Gear similarly says he’s very comfortable that he and the councillors funded by the SFPA have only ever made decisions in the community’s interest.
“Have a look at the decisions – all of them… we voted against [the developers],” Mr Gear said.
Creating parks on land originally slated for the council to lease long-term to developers was made for the right reasons, he said.
“We did that to create open space, so the council’s decision was entirely for the public benefit, and any residual benefit for the nearby developers was never the intention.”
Converting the development sites into open space still rankles with Mr Aubrey, who said if the council had stayed on the path he’d laid out while still mayor – including seeing the wave park through – between $2m and $3m would have been added to the budget each year to reduce pressure on rates.
He says another reason for his run at mayor is because of the concentration of council representation in just a few affluent suburbs.
“We’ve got 8 of our 13 [councillors] basically in four suburbs, and we’ve got another 14 suburbs that haven’t got any of this, they’re covered by just five.
“That wouldn’t be so bad, but you see that those four suburbs have benefited so much.”
Mr Aubrey also wants to see Melville become a “dementia and disability friendly city”.
“We lead the way in age friendly status; I used to push that all the time, but a city that’s iconic in terms of caring for people with dementia.
“We’ve got a couple of dementia cafes, but that’s not enough.”
He says supporting people with dementia would also provide enormous benefits to their families.
by STEVE GRANT