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Victorian Labor nervous over expected Darebin fallout

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.

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  • 1
    puddleduck
    Posted Wednesday, 12 September 2012 at 2:44 pm | Permalink

    Bring on the Ombudsman’s report. Something has been stinking in City of Darebin for a long time.

    Whenever Councillors appear to have guaranteed tenure for as long as they want it, there’s potential for skulduggery. Like a number of Victorian Councils, too many people have been around for too long.

    There certainly needs to be investigation of issues associated with ethnic community loyalties and perceptions of favouritism in Darebin.

  • 2
    Ananija Ananievski
    Posted Wednesday, 12 September 2012 at 5:13 pm | Permalink

    A number of current councilors have exhausted their ideas and expended their energy over long terms. Infighting and personal conflicts dominate council meetings. We now need fresh faces in town hall to deal with Darebin’s livability challenges. Creativity, innovation and working in partnership must be the focus of Darebin Council.

    Our City’s way of doing things must produce local solutions that try to preserve the unique character of OUR Community. People often ask me, what makes a good Councilor? My answer is simple; a good Councilor is someone who is willing to stand-up and represent all the views and values of the community. A good Councilor is in touch with what’s going on in the community, works tireless to get the results that are needed for the community and puts the interests of the community first.

    I believe creativity, innovation and working in partnership must be the focus of Darebin Council. Council needs to be open and transparent with all residents and ratepayers. It’s time for a CHANGE in Darebin!!!

    Transparency, or the lack of it, has been one of the primary problems surrounding Darebin Council over the last couple of years. It’s vital that voters are given the opportunity to make an informed decision about the future of their local communities next month.

  • 3
    Drywretch
    Posted Thursday, 13 September 2012 at 9:24 am | Permalink

    And the walls come tumbling down! While this investigation is long long overdue, it probably won’t go wide enough, deep enough or far back in time enough to properly describe the sad saga of demise of Darebin. It would be a crime to allow this bunch of monkeys (apologies to our Simian cousins) to proceed to election. None of them have clean hands and the best thing for democracy right now would be Commissioners a-la Brimbank, ironically. Have we forgotten the Elsum Report? We are just witnessing the Second Act of the same tragedy - same setting, same characters, same sad plot. The only one who has benefitted from this is the current (?) CEO, Dev, who is laughing all the way to the bank at ratepayers expense. Sack the lot.

  • 4
    SBH
    Posted Thursday, 13 September 2012 at 1:26 pm | Permalink

    For those who think these things are political esoterica a personal perspective.

    I’ve lived in Northcote for over fifteen years. When I moved there it was a hole (no really the tip was still open) High street was one of the most down at heel strips within 10ks of the city. The council (including erstwhile mayor, Rae Perry) closed the tip and made a park, they revitalised High street with strategic investments and festivals that just took off. Councillors responded to letters (as we called them back then.

    Now High street is filling up with empty shops. Owners forgo years of rent, presumably so they will get to develop apartment blocks. Council takes no notice of resident objections to said developments. Planning regs on parking in new developments are ignored. Council is unresponsive to resident concerns, off High street, dumped rubbish and broken paving proliferate. You can feel the life draining out of the place.

  • 5
    alan youhana
    Posted Saturday, 6 October 2012 at 6:33 pm | Permalink

    Hume council should be next. Councillors are leaving meetings early to go to pokies or skipping court attendance, for drink driving, to go to watch footy interstate. There are also councillors that are physically fighting each other and landing in court. Something is wrong at Hume.

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