Developers donated to Mooney

by Chris Griffith
Published 29 January 1996 in The Courier-Mail


my face


Developers constructing some major Townsville projects have been financial backers of the Labor Party and Mayor Cr Tony Mooney, a Courier-Mail investigation has found.

In one case, ALP records show the company Reana Developments Pty Ltd donated $11,000 to the Labor Party four months after Reana was awarded a lucrative $30.1 million contract by the Townsville City Council.

In another case, a developer has confirmed his company donated $10,000 to the ALP five days after the re-election of Cr Mooney's Labor administration. He confirmed the donation was made to support Cr Mooney's team.

Neither company was listed in National or Liberal party records which listed donations of $1500 or more during the same disclosure period.

Yesterday Cr Mooney said the ALP and the party's Townsville campaign unit had complied with state and federal disclosure laws.

"In addition I have at all times complied with the ALP's Code of conduct for fund- raising," he said.

In the first case, the Townsville City Council selected Reana from 13 companies in January 1994 to build a satellite city on 245 ha of prime Townsville real estate, between the Ross River and James Cook University at the foot of Mt Stuart.

The project was regarded as Townsville's largest residential real estate development ever. It involved a 10-year plan to house 20,000 people in 1,500 dwellings, with community facilities and a commercial centre, in total worth around $300 million.

Four months later, Reana's donated $11,000 to Labor, according to the party's 1993- 94 Queensland return to the Australian Electoral Commission. The donation was dated May 24, 1994.

But Reana's managing director, Mr James Read, has denied the company ever gave the ALP money. "I don't do those sort of things," Mr Read said. "I would have known about it if we'd made the donation."

However ALP assistant secretary Peter Shooter said the party stood by the accuracy of its 1993-94 return.

It is worth noting Reana enjoys good relations with both the Townsville and Thuringowa councils.

In December 1994, Mr Read and Mr Mooney jointly launched a 20-page colour booklet about Townsville, produced to encourage investment and tourism there.

Reana absorbed the production costs of the $50,000 booklet, which was purchased by the City Council, Chamber of Commerce, and the business lobby Townsville Enterprise.

In neighbouring Thuringowa, where Reana is developing the $200 million, 1000-lot Greenwood residential estate, Mayor Cr Les Tyrell said the council returned two of three Christmas hampers sent by Reana in late 1994. A third hamper, given to Cr Tyrell, was kept.

Cr Tyrell said this was because the law distinguished gifts to elected representatives, which are allowed, from gifts to council workers, which are not. The returned hampers had been intended for Thuringowa's engineering and town planning sections.

The second major donation was $10,000 given to the ALP by Southport-based developer Peter Chen's company Lakes Corporation Ltd. Mr Chen has confirmed the donation was in support of Cr Mooney's team.

It was recorded in Labor Party records as occurring on March 31st, 1994 -- five days after the 1994 local government election.

Although Mr Chen lives on the Gold Coast, another Chen company, Sabina Pacific Ltd, successfully tendered in November 1990 for Townsville's $120 million Woolcock Lakes Stage II project.

The agreement first involved Sabina Pacific constructing the lake as part of Townsville's flood mitigation system. This has been completed.

Sabina is now turning Townsville's Currajong salt pans into residential lots, office blocks, apartment blocks, a hotel, retail shops, and a Chinese Shao Lin Temple.

Although the tender was awarded five years ago, Townsville Liberal Cr Jim Cathcart said zoning, engineering, and town planning requirements including requests to vary building plans had only just been finalised.

In both stories, there is no suggestion that the giving or receiving of these donations was unlawful. Both were properly declared, and there is no evidence the funds influenced council's decision making processes.

And Townsville's Opposition Liberal councillors have agreed that the best companies were awarded the jobs. In Sabina Pacific's case, the company was the only tender.

In addition, Cr Mooney said the ALP code of conduct outlawed accepting funds that were subject to conditions of any kind -- even if only be inference.

He said the ALP was the only major party to develop such a code, and the only major party which supported state and federal government law supporting the disclosure laws.

However there is concern in Townsville that the perception of a level playing field can be compromised when developers involved in big projects donate to one side of politics -- and not the other.

One Townsville developer, who asked not to be named, said it was vital that companies spending anything from $25,000 to $80,000 on expressions of interest had absolute faith in government processes.

He said developers who make donations out of gratitude, or as a thank-you, can compromise an administration's dealings without intending to.

Cr Mooney said local government decision making was perhaps the most highly scrutinised of any level of public administration.

Despite these assurances, discussion of donors and their motives isn't likely to go away.

The publication of these two donations follows the release late last year of details of a 1993 Criminal Justice Commission investigation into the ill-fated "Magnetic Quays" project at Nelly Bay on Magnetic Island.

In a letter to environmental campaigner Julia Walkden in 1994, the CJC confirmed that developer Linkon Pty Ltd had given $2070 to Cr Mooney's 1989 mayoral by- election campaign indirectly.

Initially Cr Mooney's then campaign director, Alderman Richard Cleal, denied the donation had been made.

However the investigation found a money trail involving payment by Linkon Pty Ltd through the company Newtons Pty Ltd to Maidens and Associates to print Cr Mooney's election advertising material.

The CJC said the donation constituted neither a criminal offence nor official misconduct, because there was no requirement in the Local Government Act for it to be recorded.

In its letter, the CJC said: "Mr Mooney stated that although he may have received a campaign donation from the developers. he had very little input into the fund-raising, which was left to his campaign director, Alderman Cleal."

The donations issue, of course, was prominent in Queensland during the Fitzgerald Inquiry, which found some companies had given six-figure amounts to the incumbent National Party -- shortly before Cabinet awarded tenders for major state projects.

The projects included construction of the Bundaberg Maternity Hospital in 1983, major road works on the Bruce Highway and Brisbane's Western Arterial Freeway, work on the Callide "B" Power Station, and Queensland's massive railways electrification project in 1983-1986.

In the 1980s it required a royal commission to prize out this information.

These days Federal and Queensland legislation require political parties to furnish annual returns which show donors, creditors, and spending. Queensland law also requires candidates to declare personal donations after state elections. A similar requirement is on the horizon for next year's local government elections.

Some regard these laws as full of loopholes, but at least the public now has some chance of deciding whether donors are simply generous and grateful people, whether they donate because they hope to get a better deal from government, or whether some donations have been given explicitly for services rendered or to be rendered.