Fraser Coast mayor asked to explain why he shouldn't be dismissed
By Felicity Caldwell25 January 2018 — 4:42pm
- A Queensland mayor has been given seven days to explain why he should not be fired.
In November, Fraser Coast Regional Council mayor Chris Loft was arrested, following a misconduct investigation by the Crime and Corruption Commission.
Fraser Coast Regional Council mayor Chris Loft has been asked to explain why he should not be dismissed.Photo: Facebook
He was charged with two counts of misconduct in public office, one of disclosing official secrets, one of wilfully disclosing information and one of computer hacking and misuse.
In December, former local government minister Mark Furner took the unprecedented step of issuing Cr Loft with a "show cause notice", but it was not actioned during the election's caretaker period.
On Thursday afternoon, Local Government Minister Stirling Hinchliffe said he had notified Cr Loft that he proposed to exercise his powers to recommend he be dismissed as mayor and councillor.
"I have therefore revoked the previous show cause notice issued by Minister Furner on 5 December 2017 and have now issued a notice to Councillor Loft seeking his submission on why he should not be dismissed under the Local Government Act."
Mr Hinchliffe said he had given Cr Loft seven days to show cause as to why he should not be dismissed.
"Once this period has elapsed, I will consider all the relevant materials - including any submission by Councillor Loft - to reach a decision on whether to recommend the dismissal of Councillor Loft."
Fairfax Media attempted to contact Cr Loft for comment.
BELIEVE IT OR NOT
Councillors failing to declare conflicts of interest The CCC examined a number of allegations that councillors had failed to declare conflicts of interest in matters related to donors to their 2016 election campaigns. This particularly arose in Moreton
Bay Regional Council, where a number of councillors had received donations via Moreton Futures Trust (MFT). In at least three instances, significant donors to MFT have had development matters considered by the Council’s Coordination Committee
since the election — Hardev Property on 31 May 2016, Impact Homes on 9 August 2016 and Philip Usher Constructions on 8 November 2016. According to the minutes of these meetings, no councillor who disclosed receiving a donation from MFT declared a conflict
of interest in any of these matters.
A major reason for councillors failing to declare conflicts of interest in situations such as these appears to be that councillors do not always consider that they have a conflict. As noted in Chapter 12, for example, Mayor Allan Sutherland maintained at the public hearing that he did not have any conflicts of
251 The implied freedom of political communication imposes constraints on legislation burdening political donations [Unions New South Wales v New South Wales (2013) 252 CLR 530 and McCloy v New South Wales (2015) 257 CLR 178]. Valid laws need to be supported by evidence to demonstrate the problem to be prevented and how the laws are compatible with our system of government. It is not enough to merely assert that political donations from corporations or industrial organisations may threaten the integrity of representative government (Unions New South Wales, per Keane J. p 580 at  – ). There must be evidence that demonstrates the specific capacity of a business or industry to corrupt or unduly influence government (McCloy, per Gageler J. p 250 at  – ).
252 Section 173(2), LG Act; also section 175(2), City of Brisbane Act 2010.
253 Section 173(1), LG Act.
254 Section 173(4)–(10), LG Act.
in relation to MFT donors because he did not know who they were. This is difficult to believe given that an email containing the names of MFT donors was sent three days before the election to an email account Cr Sutherland shared with his wife,255 and that
Cr Sutherland had personally received at least one cheque made out to MFT.256 Even if Cr Sutherland is to be believed, wilful blindness is a questionable approach to take given that Cr Sutherland, like anyone, had the ability to determine who had donated to
MFT by at any time consulting the relevant disclosure returns after they had been published by the ECQ. This is even easier with the new real-time electronic disclosure system. Also unconvincing
was Cr Peter Flannery’s distinction between “direct” and “indirect” donations and their implications for conflicts of interest:
Counsel Assisting Do you see that [receiving donations via a trust], then, as a means of relieving any potential conflict of interest?
Cr Flannery I see it does, yes, because it actually allows the councillor to ignore who gave funding to the trust, because they didn't give the money directly to me. If it was given directly to me, then, yes, it was a direct conflict of interest… (Evidence given by Peter Flannery, p. 14)
The notion that a conflict of interest is somehow washed away by virtue of a donation being made via a third party is completely unreasonable and raises serious questions about the intentions behind using the MFT model.257 To address this issue, the CCC recommends that the LG Act be amended so that, for the purposes of fulfilling their obligations, including in relation to conflicts of interest, councillors are at all times deemed to know the original source of such gifts (Recommendation 21).
That the Local Government Act and the City of Brisbane Act be amended to deem that a gift and the source of the gift referred to in Recommendation 6 is at all times within the knowledge of the councillor for the purposes of Chapter 6, Part 2, Divisions 5 and 6.
Some other councillors the CCC spoke to during Operation Belcarra were of the view that even direct donations do not necessarily give rise to conflicts of interest. This is contrary to the view of the former Queensland Integrity Commissioner that donations “certainly can” lead to real or perceived conflicts of interests for councillors:
It seems self-evident that a reasonable person would expect that electoral donations are made for a purpose, and that donors will expect that their donations achieve that purpose. Those personal or sectional interests can clearly conflict with the public interest which should be the basis for all public decision-making. (Submission from Richard Bingham, pp. 2–3)
The CCC concurs with this position. It seems to the CCC that some councillors are particularly failing to recognise perceived conflicts of interest arising from donations, having little or no regard for how the donations they receive may be seen by members of the public to compromise the performance of their duties. As noted on page 64, these perceptions can arise even when donations are made to candidates via third parties, and may in fact be exacerbated in these circumstances given the smoke and mirrors appearance of such funding models.
Another reason why conflicts of interest may not be declared is that they can at times be genuinely difficult for councillors or indeed anyone to identify. This is particularly the case when business entities are involved as donors or in matters before council. As noted in Chapter 12, Queensland’s current
255 See Exhibit 55 from the public hearing (p. 4).
256 Evidence given by Trent Dixon, p. 14.
257 As noted on page 64, Crs Sutherland and Flannery were among several councillors who referred to advice reportedly given at the 2015 LGAQ conference by Local Government Ethics and Integrity Advisor Joan Sheldon, which they interpreted as recommending that they use a trust or other third party entity to receive campaign donations.
CHAPTER 13: PERCEPTIONS OF COMPROMISED COUNCIL PROCESSES AND DECISION-MAKING 81
donation disclosure scheme requires only limited information about donors to be recorded, and one consequence of this is that it is difficult to identify the people behind corporate donations. This can in turn make it difficult to identify circumstances where a matter brought before council involves a party associated with a donation. For instance, a person may make a donation in the name of one of their businesses but have an application before council that relates to another, as one donor noted during their interview with the CCC:
…I can donate money to a political candidate [in the name of one of my companies], but they’re not to know… no political candidate is to know that I’ve got 40 other companies… At the end of the day, are your declarations about the person that’s donating the money or the company?
Situations such as this can create significant difficulties for councillors in identifying and dealing with conflicts of interest. Requiring the disclosure of the individuals behind corporate donations (Recommendation 18, page 75) is intended to help address this, but it would be desirable if similar information was also included in planning applications before council, or planning applications that councillors may otherwise have some interest in, so that councillors are able to easily identify matters involving their donors (Recommendation 22, part a). Councillors would be further assisted to identify potential conflicts of interest if applications indicated when the applicant or a related entity had previously made donations or incurred expenditure for elections relating to the council (Recommendation 22, part b).
That the Planning Act 2016 be amended to require that any application under Chapters 2 to 5: (a) include a statement as to whether or not the applicant or any entity directly or indirectly related to the applicant has previously made a declarable gift or incurred other declarable electoral expenditure relevant to an election for the local government that has an interest in the application (b) any application made to council by a company include the names and residential or business addresses of the company’s directors (or the directors of the controlling entity).
A local government has an interest in the application if it or a local government councillor, employee, contractor or approved entity is: an affected owner; an affected entity; an affected party; an assessment manager; a building certifier; a chosen assessment manager; a prescribed assessment manager; a decision-maker; a referral agency; or a responsible entity.
Finally, a large number of councillors the CCC spoke to during its investigation expressed uncertainty about their obligations in declaring conflicts of interest. Many councillors noted that the relevant legislation is unclear and ambiguous, and that this leads to differing views about what amounts to a conflict of interest and what exactly should be declared. The CCC heard in particular that some councillors take a much broader view of conflicts than others, which other councillors saw as leading to unnecessary and time-consuming “over-declaring”. Former Ipswich Mayor Paul Pisasale spoke to this issue at the public hearing:
…no-one has ever defined what a conflict is, and that makes it very difficult because at council meetings you've got people declaring that they're members of the Boy Scouts, they're Catholic, they've had sandwiches at the Show Society, so a lot of the council meeting is taken up with people declaring conflicts. (Evidence given by Paul Pisasale, p. 20)
Councillors failing to appropriately deal with declared conflicts of interest The CCC found that, even when councillors declare conflicts of interest, how they subsequently deal with them often raises concerns. A number of people who were spoken to during the investigation especially took issue with councillors who routinely stay in the room to vote after declaring a conflict of interest. Some councillors said that they take this approach because they see not voting as adversely
82 OPERATION BELCARRA
affecting council decision-making, and potentially the public interest. Councillors who have this view consider that they have been elected by voters to perform a function, and that they cannot do this properly if they are not in the room and participating in council business, even if this relates to one of their donors. Gold Coast Councillor Donna Gates, who received over $173 000 in donations from a total of 110 donors,258 explained her position at the public hearing:
…I represent the northern Gold Coast. It's probably the most rapidly growing area in our country, and my knowledge now of the area extends over 20 years. I have felt there's more benefit in my being in the room to represent the community interests than my being outside of the room, where others don't have as significant experience, and so I have firmly maintained my position of being in the room to get the best community outcome. (Evidence given by Donna Gates, p. 10)
Several other councillors made similar comments when speaking to the CCC. These councillors were typically of the view that they were capable of acting in the public interest at all times, and that receiving donations does not affect the decisions they make about matters before council. It is highly doubtful, however, that a councillor believing in their own integrity is enough to counter public suspicions about the nature and influence of political donations. This leaves room for concerns that councillors are not dealing with their conflicts in transparent and accountable ways, despite their chosen course of action being permitted within the law.
Among other councillors the CCC spoke to, there was a diverse range of approaches to dealing with declared conflicts of interest. Some councillors took the opposite approach to Cr Gates and routinely left the meeting after declaring a conflict. Moreton Bay Mayor Allan Sutherland and Logan Mayor Luke Smith were two such councillors, although they had differing views about whether this was desirable. Similar to Cr Gates, Cr Sutherland noted at the public hearing that excluding himself from matters has at times led to decisions that he believes would have benefitted from his input.259 Cr Smith, on the other hand, stated that he saw no tension between his duties as an elected official and receiving donations that preclude him from participating in council deliberations.260 Other councillors indicated that they may take different actions in different circumstances, but few could clearly articulate the criteria they used in making these decisions. Other councillors were uncertain about what action they should take after declaring a conflict of interest, or had mistaken beliefs about what was required. For example, some councillors appeared to believe they were obliged to leave the meeting after declaring a conflict of interest, seemingly confusing the requirements for material personal interests.261 These varying approaches appeared to stem mainly from councillors having complete discretion in the way that they can deal with conflicts, although a degree of uncertainty and confusion about the requirements of the LG Act also appeared to play a role.
CCC QLD REPORT
6 Moreton Bay Regional Council election
Focus of the public hearing Operation Belcarra focused on 18 allegations in relation to the 2016 local government election in Moreton Bay. These allegations involved perceptions that candidates had advertised or fundraised as a group without advising the returning officer,109 and failed to give a disclosure return within the required time110 or provided a disclosure return containing information that they knew was false or misleading.111
The CCC required the following people to attend the public hearing: Cr Allan Sutherland, Mayor of the Moreton Bay Regional Council (MBRC) Cr Peter Flannery, Division 2, MBRC Cr Mike Charlton, Division 9, MBRC Ms Kimberly James, unsuccessful candidate for Division 3, MBRC Mr Tim Connolly, settlor of Moreton Futures Trust (MFT) Dr John Ryan, a trustee of MFT Mr Kirby Leeke, a trustee MFT Mr Robert Comiskey, donor to MFT Mr David Trask, donor to MFT and Cr Allan Sutherland Mr Michael Ravbar, State Secretary, CFMEU Qld/NT Branch Mr Trent Dixon, adviser to Cr Allan Sutherland.
Allegations about candidates advertising or fundraising as a group without advising the returning officer It was alleged that a number of candidates, all sitting councillors, had advertised or fundraised as a group during the election campaign without advising the returning officer. Four behaviours gave rise to perceptions that candidates were operating as an undeclared group: the use of joint how-to-vote cards the use of joint billboards candidates receiving letters of endorsement from each other the payment of advertising expenses from a common source, namely Cr Allan Sutherland and MFT. An explanation of these behaviours helps to understand the CCC’s conclusions in relation to the allegations.
Joint how-to-vote cards Mayor Allan Sutherland and a number of sitting councillors used joint how-to-vote cards in their 2016 election campaigns. For example, Cr Sutherland had joint how-to-vote cards with Cr Peter Flannery (Exhibit 64; see Appendix 9) and Cr Charlton (Exhibit 37; see Appendix 9). A number of how-to-vote cards had a similar design and featured the slogan, “For a bright future”. This was a slogan that had
109 Section 183, LGE Act.
110 Section 195(1), LGE Act.
111 Section 195(2), LGE Act. See also section 195(3) relating to a candidate who is a member of a group who allows the group’s agent to give a return containing information that the candidate knows is false or misleading in a material particular.
CHAPTER 6: MORETON BAY REGIONAL COUNCIL ELECTION 29
previously been used by the council to promote the Petrie University site,112 also known as The Mill Priority Development Area.
The use of joint how-to-vote cards was an initiative of Cr Sutherland. He stated at the public hearing that he asked several individual councillors whether they would like to share a how-to-vote card with him, largely as “a logistical decision” for himself.113 Some councillors declined. Among those councillors who accepted, some offered to pay for half of the costs involved, including Cr Charlton.114 Cr Sutherland nevertheless maintained that he would pay in full, but emphasised that his contribution must be disclosed as a donation to the other councillors’ campaigns.115
Joint billboards Several of the sitting councillors who had joint how-to-vote cards with the mayor also shared joint billboards. One billboard featured Crs Sutherland and Flannery, while others featured Cr Sutherland with various other councillors (for example, Exhibits 38 and 40). Again, these billboards were all initiated by Cr Sutherland and the costs were paid for in full by him.116 The other councillors involved nevertheless agreed to the production and use of the billboards, and Cr Charlton was listed as a contact on the invoice for his joint billboard (Exhibit 41).
Letters of endorsement Four of the sitting councillors who had joint-how-to-vote cards with the mayor also received letters of endorsement from Cr Sutherland. These letters were again offered to councillors by the mayor. In them, Cr Sutherland endorsed the councillor’s efforts, noting major projects they had helped to deliver for their divisions, and stated that he supported their re-election to council. The cost of mailing out these letters to electors was again paid for in full by either Cr Sutherland or MFT.117
A common funding source As noted above, Cr Sutherland offered to, and did, either pay or arrange for MFT to pay in full for all of the joint advertising and promotional materials he arranged with other councillors. Notably, 63 per cent of Cr Sutherland’s own campaign funding ($118 587.05) came from MFT (see Exhibit 72). In summary: MFT paid for expenses relating to Cr Flannery ($3677), Cr Houghton ($2873) and Cr Greer ($2488.35; see Exhibit 49). Each of these amounts represents the councillor’s share of the joint advertising and promotional materials they received. Cr Sutherland paid directly for expenses relating to Cr Charlton ($2501), Cr Houghton ($855) and Cr Winchester ($855).118 Each of these amounts represents the councillor’s share of the joint advertising and promotional materials they received.
Conclusions Candidates who engaged in the above activities were of the view that they had not formed a group of candidates as defined in the LGE Act. For example, Cr Sutherland stated in the hearing:
…I'd adopt the attitude that most people looking at that by arrangement would see that as the sitting council, not a group. They would see Mick Gillam and Allan Sutherland. They know Mick Gillam is their sitting councillor and Allan Sutherland is their Mayor. I wouldn't suggest it's a
112 Evidence given by Peter Flannery, p. 8.
113 Evidence given by Allan Sutherland, p. 9.
114 Evidence given by Michael Charlton, p. 9.
115 Evidence given by Allan Sutherland, p. 10.
116 Evidence given by Allan Sutherland, p. 14.
117 Evidence given by Allan Sutherland, p. 13.
118 As per Cr Sutherland’s third party disclosure return available on the ECQ website.
30 OPERATION BELCARRA
group as such but more as a council. They're the sitting councillors. (Evidence given by Allan Sutherland, p. 12)
Despite such claims, the CCC formed the view that Cr Sutherland having and paying for joint how-tovote cards, joint billboards and the mail out of letters of endorsement for a number of other councillors can be considered conduct that promoted the election of the candidates, and that those candidates should have registered as groups. However, the CCC determined that commencing a prosecution for an offence against section 183 of the LGE Act was not in the public interest in these circumstances because: The how-to-vote cards were approved by the ECQ, which knew or ought to have known that the candidates had not registered as a group. The candidates are likely to have inferred from the ECQ’s approval that their conduct was not contrary to the LGE Act. This type of conduct has occurred in a number of prior elections and has not been subject to any censure by the ECQ or other authority. The current definition of a group of candidates is broad and ambiguous, and is likely to capture conduct that was not intended to be captured (see further discussion in Chapter 11). The activities discussed above were largely transparent in that joint how-to-vote cards, joint billboards and letters of endorsement would have clearly conveyed to anyone who saw them that the candidates were supportive of each other. Further, contributions for advertising were declared by the candidates in their disclosure returns. In any event, a prosecution for an offence against section 183 of the LGE Act must be commenced within 12 months from when the offence occurred (i.e. any prosecution must have been commenced by 20 March 2017).
Allegations about candidates failing to comply with disclosure obligations It was alleged that some of the Moreton Bay candidates who appeared before the public hearing had failed to disclose donations. Two groups of allegations were examined at the public hearing: Cr Sutherland’s and Cr Flannery’s disclosure of donations from MFT Ms Kimberly James’s failure to lodge a disclosure return by the due date.
Cr Sutherland’s and Cr Flannery’s disclosure of donations from Moreton Futures Trust
Moreton Futures Trust As noted above, a number of Moreton Bay candidates had expenses paid for by a third party entity known as Moreton Futures Trust (MFT). MFT was established in 2010. A deed dated 7 April of that year proposed to establish MFT “to support the election campaigns of certain candidates in the Moreton regional Council area” (Exhibit 45). Evidence was given at the public hearing that MFT had evolved from an earlier group called Friends of Pine Rivers. This was established in the early 2000s to help fund candidates for the Pine Rivers Shire Council, which was subsequently merged with several other local government areas to form the MBRC.119
MFT has supported MBRC candidates in both the 2012 and 2016 elections. In relation to the 2012 election, one of MFT’s trustees,120 Mr Kirby Leeke, stated at the public hearing that the trustees had decided that MFT would support Mayor Allan Sutherland.121 MFT’s disclosure return for 2012 indicated
119 Evidence given by Dr John Ryan, p. 4.
120 The original trustees were Mr Bryan Galvin, former Deputy Mayor of the Pine Rivers Shire Council, and Dr John Ryan. Mr Galvin was replaced as trustee by Mr Leeke in November 2011 (Exhibit 51).
121 Evidence given by Kirby Leeke, pp. 8–9.
CHAPTER 6: MORETON BAY REGIONAL COUNCIL ELECTION 31
that it received $132 695 in donations and donated $60 000 of this to Cr Sutherland for his campaign.122 In relation to the 2016 election, Mr Leeke gave evidence that MFT’s trustees had again determined to support Cr Sutherland, and only Cr Sutherland.123 MFT’s disclosure return for 2016 indicated that it received $137 000 in donations and made payments of $127 625.40 (Exhibit 49). As identified on page 29, the majority of this expenditure was indeed for the benefit of Cr Sutherland ($118 587.05), although three other councillors, including Cr Peter Flannery, also disclosed donations from MFT for their share of joint advertising.
In examining how funds were raised by MFT, the CCC determined that Mr David Trask, a property developer, appeared to be the only person actively soliciting funds for the trust. According to Mr Trask, he knew that MFT was supporting Cr Sutherland in the election campaign and he advised donors that they could donate either directly to Cr Sutherland or to MFT.124 MFT’s disclosure return shows that the majority of its funds came from donors who were involved in property development and construction (see further discussion in Chapter 12).
According to Mr Trask, the benefit of donations being directed to MFT was that someone else would take care of the administration of money on behalf of Cr Sutherland.125 In contrast to 2012, where MFT gave money directly to Cr Sutherland, Cr Sutherland arranged for his wife to send invoices for his 2016 campaign expenses to one of the trustees for payment.126 Mr Leeke stated that he would decide whether to pay particular invoices that were sent to him by Cr Sutherland’s wife. Some invoices he approved and paid and some he rejected.127
Crs Sutherland and Flannery The CCC examined disclosure returns and bank accounts for Crs Sutherland and Flannery and found that both councillors had recorded all of the gifts they had received from MFT (and other donors) in their returns. However, the details about MFT that the councillors recorded in their return did not comply with section 109 of the LGE Act. Specifically, the returns did not state the names and residential or business addresses of MFT’s trustees as required.
The CCC does not suggest that this omission was done dishonestly or as a deliberate attempt to hide details about MFT. At the public hearing, Cr Sutherland stated that he had only become aware of the requirement that week.128 Cr Flannery similarly gave evidence that the requirement was not clear to him, and that he had simply done as Cr Sutherland had in his 2012 return.129 The CCC identified that many candidates failed to provide these and other “relevant details” as defined in section 109, and this is discussed further in Chapter 12.
The CCC formed the view that Cr Sutherland and Cr Flannery should both have recorded additional details about MFT’s trustees in their disclosure returns. Nevertheless, the CCC determined that the systemic nature of this issue and the fact that the ECQ has not taken action about previous noncompliant returns meant that it was not in the public interest to refer these matters to the ECQ for consideration of any prosecution proceedings it considers warranted for offences against section 195(1) of the LGE Act. The CCC determined there was insufficient evidence to commence a prosecution against Cr Sutherland or Cr Flannery for an offence against section 195(2).
122 MFT third party disclosure return available on the ECQ website.
123 Evidence given by Kirby Leeke, pp. 13–15, 21.
124 Evidence given by David Trask, p. 13.
125 Evidence given by David Trask, p. 13.
126 Evidence given by Allan Sutherland, p. 24–5.
127 Evidence given by Kirby Leeke, p. 20.
128 Evidence given by Allan Sutherland, p. 19.
129 Evidence given by Peter Flannery, p. 10.
32 OPERATION BELCARRA
Ms Kimberly James’s failure to lodge a disclosure return by the due date At the public hearing, CFMEU State Secretary Mr Michael Ravbar stated that the 2013 introduction of specific workplace laws relating to the local government sector prompted the CFMEU’s interest in the 2016 local government elections.130 Mr Ravbar indicated that the CFMEU determined to advocate against those laws by assisting the campaigns of like-minded candidates.
The CCC was aware from the CFMEU’s third party donation disclosure return that one candidate the CFMEU had supported in 2016 was Ms Kimberly James, a Division 3 candidate in Moreton Bay. Mr Ravbar confirmed at the public hearing that the CFMEU had provided financial support to Ms James’s election campaign totalling $32 155. The CFMEU submitted a third party disclosure return to the ECQ detailing the gifts it gave to Ms James (Exhibit 131). The CFMEU also gave Ms James a financial statement detailing the amount, dates and type of support it had given Ms James to help her in preparing her own disclosure return (Exhibit 128).
According to information from the ECQ, Ms James had failed to lodge a disclosure return by the due date of 4 July 2016. Ms James was initially interviewed by the CCC on 26 May 2017, and during that interview Ms James admitted that she had failed to lodge a disclosure return in compliance with section 117 of the LGE Act. During her evidence at the public hearing, Ms James again confirmed that she was aware of her obligation to lodge a disclosure return as a candidate and that she had failed to do so.131 Ms James stated that after her interview with the CCC, she immediately attended to this issue and lodged a return with the ECQ on 29 May 2017.132 The CCC was subsequently advised by the ECQ that it had received Ms James’s disclosure return.
The CCC formed the view that Ms James had failed to submit her disclosure return within the required time. The CCC determined there was sufficient evidence to refer this matter to the ECQ for consideration of any prosecution proceedings it considers warranted for an offence against section 195(1) of the LGE Act, but that it was not in the public interest to do this given Ms James has now submitted her return.
130 Evidence given by Michael Ravbar, p. 4.
131 Evidence given by Kimberly Ann James, p. 14.
132 Evidence given by Kimberly Ann James, pp. 14–5.
Mayor Denies Donation Wrong Doing
One of Queensland's longest serving mayors says he was unaware property developers bankrolled half his election campaign through a trust until a recent corruption investigation.
Allan Sutherland was re-elected to the Moreton Bay Regional Council in March 2016 on the back of large contributions from the Moreton Futures Trust.
A Crime and Corruption Commission investigation has heard this week that the trust received donations from several property developers to the tune of $137,000.
"I'd be happy not to be involved in the money in any way, shape or form," Mr Sutherland said.
He said he did not know property developers had made large contributions to the trust until recently when investigators first approached him.
The commission was told Mr Sutherland was suffering from serious health issues about the time of the election and did not check the trust's disclosure form, which is publicly available on the state's Electoral Commission website.
"It was probably the last thing on my mind," he said.
The mayor's own disclosure form shows he received more than $118,00 from the trust and does not list the individual developers.
Mr Sutherland said he understood the public's suspicion of donations, particularly from developers, but stated he thought he was doing the right thing because it seemed "cleaner" if the trust paid his campaign bills.
"I was happy not to know - it's hard to have a conflict when you don't know who the donor is," he said.
"I thought I was doing the right thing, I've made every attempt to do the right thing."
Mr Sutherland also brushed off suggestions he and five other councillors had worked together as a group, despite promoting themselves as independent candidates.
The commission heard Mr Sutherland approached candidates and offered to pay for campaign material featuring them together such as billboards and how-to-vote cards.
He also wrote letters of endorsement for three candidates that were mailed to constituents.
One of the candidates, councillor Peter Flannery, said the total $3677 cost of his promotional material was paid for by the Moreton Futures Trust but did not believe he or the mayor had done anything wrong.
"I think it's all legal and above board," Mr Flannery told reporters.
All the joint how-to-vote cards featuring the mayor and a candidate were almost identical in style and layout and shared the slogan "for a bright future".
Mr Sutherland said he did not think the candidates and himself had run as a group because they shared no common policies, election platform and had no leader.
He also emphasised that payment was made on the condition the candidate would declare the contribution.
Candidates are allowed to run as a group if they formally register with the Electoral Commission.
The CCC hearing, which is investigating funding and disclosure allegations from Queensland's 2016 council elections, will resume on Wednesday.
© AAP 2017
Story from Channel Nine News
Crime and Corruption Commission Queensland hearing
Today I attended the CCC Public Hearing into allegations of improper
conduct of Mayors and Councilors during the 2016 Council elections.
One group in particular gained extremely high praise from the Electoral
Commissioner when being questioned by Counsel Assisting the CCC.
While YCF was not specifically named there was direct reference to "one
group who contested the Moreton Bay Council Elections"
As YCF was the only registered group contesting this election I didn't
need a Seeing Eye Dog to find my way through his comments.
The Commissioner went on to say this group ticked ALL the boxes as a
legitimate group and basically was an example of how a group should
conduct itself to contest an election.
Ladies and gentlemen for all the long hours establishing our group and
getting our house in order it was well worth the effort.
I know Geoff McKay was a major influence in formulating our group's
foundations and although at times it was very wearing and tedious, I
cannot thank him enough for his untiring efforts.
I am well aware that others were involved in our early days, but Geoff
was the proverbial Pain in the Butt making sure the T's were crossed and
the I's dotted in accordance with the legislation.
To receive such a compliment during the hearing certainly did put a
massive smile on my face and swelled my chest with pride for all the
people involved with YCF.
Your Community First.Good evening
Statement by the electrol commission for qld
Yes. If candidates wish to run as a group, they need to advise the Commission. There was one group in Moreton, I believe, that ran as a group, and, as far as I'm concerned, the documentation and the process followed there was legitimate and met the requirements. There were candidates up north as well that ran as a group.
CA You can call to mind a couple of examples as you speak. Can you tell us 30 whether that is common or not common for candidates to run as a group?
W It's not overly common, but it is -- it's becoming more of a practice. We had a number up in northern Queensland. Off the top of my head, I can't tell you who they were, but, as I say, we had one in Moreton, which, as far as I am concerned, satisfied all the legal requirements to run as a group and they were acknowledged as that, and their How to Vote Card reflected the fact that the candidates were part of a group.