Proactive planning review findings made public
Council has released a summary of a recent probity review into planning matters at the City of Kingston. The review, which was finalised in February 2021, found no evidence of improper conduct at Kingston Council.
Council engaged Lawyers Holding Redlich to conduct the extensive review following the revelations at the City of Casey which led to the Council’s sacking, with Kingston Council keen to reassure the community that no similar concerns existed in Kingston.
Kingston’s $245,000 independent probity review looked into any local planning matters that involved key players from IBAC’s Operation Sandon investigation in Casey.
A summary of the findings of the review has now been shared with all participants in the review and made public for all to see.
Council also provided a copy of the full report to IBAC and the Victorian Ombudsman’s Office.
Kingston Mayor Steve Staikos said Councillors called for the independent probity review to give the community confidence that proper planning processes were followed at Kingston.
“I’m pleased to report that the review found no evidence of improper conduct,” said Cr Staikos. “We take these issues very seriously and wanted to ensure our community had full confidence in local planning processes.”
Importantly the summary report states:
“Based upon the interviews and the review of the available documentation, Holding Redlich concluded that the conduct reportedly occurring at the City of Casey does not appear to have occurred, nor is occurring, at the City of Kingston.
Whilst some Council interviewees have had dealings with the Operation Sandon identified persons, and despite some interviewees making allegations in relation to corruption and misconduct by certain Councillors or officers, Holding Redlich did not find conclusive evidence of wide scale improper conduct, corrupt conduct, or misconduct. All interviewees denied ever having received financial incentives or undisclosed political donations.”
“The lawyers’ review also provided 13 recommendations on how to further strengthen planning processes to provide additional protection, these are now being implemented,” Cr Staikos said.
The recommendations included:
- Maintaining a register of any Councillor meetings with lobbyists
- Developing/reviewing political donation disclosure policy
- Randomly reviewing planning applications for auditing purposes
- Providing ongoing ethics training for Councillors and officers
- Providing training for Councillors on the Victorian Planning system
- Defining which senior officers should attend meetings with applicants
- Documenting all meetings with external parties and lobbyists
- Ensuring adequate process to report suspected misconduct
- Developing a framework to guide Councillor ‘call ins’ of planning applications
- Adopting policy on election campaign return forms
- Considering planning panel recommendations and providing a transparent approach if a recommendation is not followed
- Considering ways to enhance relationships between Councillors and officers.
The community can access the summary of the planning review at kingston.vic.gov.au/About-Us/Media. The final full report is confidential subject to legal privilege.