Labor is bracing for a nuclear fallout from the coming Victorian Ombudsman’s report into Darebin council, with fears that a bevy of councillors and prominent factional players will be accused of dubious activity that could cast a pall over the party’s northern suburbs membership base.
A senior Labor source told Crikey this morning that major players were cowering in their bunkers waiting for the report, expected to be tabled imminently in the Victorian Parliament, leading to front-page coverage in The Age and wall-to-wall discussion from outraged morning talkback hosts.
“The Darebin report will have significant ramifications because existing and past Labor councillors will be named as not exactly doing the right thing,” the source explained.
The impact would be “far greater” than just a few planning decisions within Darebin (in Melbourne’s northern suburbs) and the adjacent Moreland and would take in the “Lebanese entity” within the broader ALP. The Ombudsman is expected to scrutinise council support of “community groups” that are then used as forums to recruit new members — as well as allegations of conflicts of interest over planning and development decisions.
MPs within the struggling Baillieu government are believed to be aware of some of the report’s contents and are said to be salivating at the thought of using the Darebin mud to spray over the whole party in an echo of the 2009 Brimbank debacle. The Local Government Inspectorate is also said to be investigating the council.
Yesterday, deputy mayor Diana Asmar resigned from the council after 15 years to focus on the upcoming election for the de-merged No. 1 branch of the disgraced Health Services Union, previously controlled by Jeff Jackson.
Her husband, David Asmar, named last week in The Age as being the subject of a report from another councillor over his alleged influence in the region, is on indefinite leave from his job as an electorate officer to Labor Senator and key right factional powerbroker Stephen Conroy. Crikey understands Asmar will also be assisting with his wife’s HSU tilt.
Also last week, Darebin CEO Rasiah Dev, who is paid well over $300,000 a year, took leave from the council, but not before launching an extraordinary email spray accusing investigators from the Ombudsman’s office of creating an “aggressive spectacle” by harassing him over planning and other decisions in multiple interviews and phone calls.
Since December 2011, the council has been divided into the dominant Labor Right-supporting “Bent Street Five” (named after a development spat) comprising mayor Steven Tsitas, deputy mayor Asmar, Cr Nick Katsis and ex-“Taliban” councillors Ben Morgan (still loyal to Martin Ferguson and sometimes David Feeney) and Stanley Chiang.
The so-called “resistance” is led by Cr Tim Laurence (Socialist Left, formerly Pledge), Cr Gaetano Greco (SL), independent Cr Vince Fontana and sole Green Cr Trent McCarthy. Before last year, a power-sharing deal was maintained between Asmar, Katsis, Laurence, Greco, Fontana and McCarthy with Tsitas, Morgan and Chiang on the outer.
While the report is expected to land soon the council will go to the polls next month and there is a competing suggestion its release would be delayed until after the vote is finalised.