Ex Qld mayor’s misconduct charges dropped
Cheryl Goodenough |
A former Queensland mayor has slammed the state’s corruption watchdog saying it is “out of control”, while a call has been made for the organisation’s chair to resign or be removed.
After 25 years as a councillor, former Moreton Bay Regional Council mayor Allan Sutherland was stood down after being charged with two counts of misconduct in public office by the state’s corruption watchdog in December 2019.
He was accused of manipulating the timing and scope of a project affecting land he bought in Burpengary, and lobbying for change in planning scheme amendments for personal gain.
A committal hearing was held last year with Queensland Treasurer Cameron Dick – who was previously the planning minister – taking the stand.
But the Crown had decided not to proceed further with the charges due to a lack of evidence, prosecutor Sarah Farnden told the Brisbane Magistrates Court on Thursday.
She said the decision came after considering submissions from defence barrister Saul Holt.
It comes after a state parliamentary committee last month called for a royal commission into the corruption watchdog.
The recommendation followed a probe after prosecutors dropped charges against eight councillors – including the former mayor – of Logan.
Outside court Mr Sutherland said the Crime and Corruption Commission (CCC) was “out of control”.
“The organisation is broken; there is no doubt about that,” the 65-year-old told reporters.
“They have systemic problems … and I’ll be working with whoever it takes to see that another mayor doesn’t have to go through what I’ve been through.”
Mr Sutherland said change could not happen with the “current top echelon in place” and the public would be appalled at the way the CCC operated, which included recording 8000 of his phone calls.
“That’s a fishing trip,” he added.
“They’re not after anything else, but they just sit on the end of your phone listening for months in, months out.”
In April prosecutors withdrew charges against former Logan mayor Luke Smith, former deputy mayor Cherie Dalley and councillors Jennifer Breene, Russell Lutton, Phil Pidgeon, Trevina Schwarz, Laurence Smith and Stephen Swenson.
Those charges came when the council sacked then-chief executive Sharon Kelsey after she passed information to the commission about alleged misconduct by Mr Smith.
The bipartisan parliamentary committee found in a scathing report published in December the commission failed in its duty to act “independently and impartially” and weigh all the evidence before laying charges.
The report said the decision to lay charges had been “affected by the desire to assist Ms Kelsey”.
CCC chair Alan MacSporran did not ensure the commission acted “independently and impartially”, it said.
Local Government Association of Queensland chief executive Alison Smith on Thursday called on Mr MacSporran to resign or be removed, saying the dismissal of charges “must be the final straw”.
“Yet again we have seen a former elected member’s career ended and life ruined after being charged by the CCC, only to have their case again fail,” she said.
“In the last financial year, 15 of the 25 cases launched by the CCC were thrown out, with the bulk of those cases involving wrongfully charged local government representatives.
“If he will not go then the state government and the parliament must act to remove him.”
Deputy Premier Steven Miles said he would look at what the court said, but the matter would be considered by the parliamentary committee.
Opposition government integrity spokeswoman Fiona Simpson said the government needed to act.
“We must see action when there is so much turmoil in regard to the peak body that needs to address issues of corruption,” she said.
A CCC official said the organisation “respects and accepts” the decision of the independent Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions to discontinue the prosecution of Mr Sutherland.AAP