Bill Eclairs finds out what Bob Carr doesn’t want us to know about the
ALP’s role in closing that shopping centre in south-western Sydney
It’s a bit rich for His Imperiousness, Bob Carr, also known as the NSW
Labor Premier, to emerge from a self-imposed cone of silence on the
Liverpool factory outlet centre controversy, and grandly preach to
those who look like losing their jobs.

But that’s what his Imperiousness did today, telling the 450 people and
the 60 retailers, that they would find jobs and business opportunities
elsewhere (and it would be good for them was the unspoken admonition
from The Great Orator). And not only would it be good for them,
but also the government that couldn’t approve the centre’s continuing
operation.

Imperious Bob said the Liverpool Council that approved the Centre and
changed the relevant zoning was incompetent, but Bob failed to mention
one vital point, the Council approved the controversial zoning change
in November 2003. The Council was sacked by the Government in March of
this year. In April of this year the NSW Court of Appeal upheld a Land
Environment Court decision that declared the Centre was illegal.

Read this from the website of the Shopping Centre Council of Australia on April 8:

“The NSW Court of Appeal has upheld a decision of the NSW
Land and Environment Court to declare unlawful a development consent by
Liverpool Council permitting a change of use of a building at Orange
Grove Road, Warwick Farm from bulky goods warehouse to warehouse
clearance outlet. The Land and Environment Court found that a warehouse
clearance outlet was a prohibited use under the relevant zoning (4(b)
Industrial – Special) of the Liverpool LEP (see /ShopTalk /30/1/04).
This decision was appealed by the developers but on 31 March the NSW
Court of Appeal dismissed the appeal. The decision can be read here.”

And in April this year, the Government-appointed administrator, a
trusted ALP bureaucrat, also approved the centre. Here’s the report
from the Shopping Centre Council of Australia website on April 16:

“The Administrator of Liverpool Council, Gabrielle Kibble,
on Tuesday night approved a draft amendment to Liverpool Local
Environmental Plan (LEP) which would give retrospective planning
approval to a warehouse clearance centre at Orange Grove Road, Warwick
Farm. This is the same outlet centre to which Liverpool Council, prior
to its dismissal by the NSW Government, gave development consent by
permitting a change of use from bulky goods warehouse to warehouse
clearance outlet. This development consent was later ruled invalid by
the NSW Land and Environment Court and the NSW Court of Appeal
subsequently upheld that court’s decision (see /Shop Talk /30/1/04 and
8/04/04). The final decision on this LEP amendment will now be a matter
for the Minister Assisting the Minister for Infrastructure and Planning
(Planning Administration), Diane Beamer, following a report by the
Department of Infrastructure, Planning and Natural Resources.”

So some interesting omissions by the Premier, who obviously doesn’t
want people to know how deeply the Government and the ALP has been
involved.

But then he didn’t go on to say it was a Labor Party-run council that
pushed through the rezoning and approved the centre. The Mayor was an
old Labor Government hack, George Paciullio. The council was sacked by
the State Government just before the State’s local government elections
in March.

Remember this was the council that fell into bed with those schemers at
the Canterbury Leagues Club in the now aborted Oasis property and
sporting development in Liverpool. That was also a way for Canterbury
to hide illegal payments to some of its high profile players at the
Bulldogs rugby league team.

Remember also this was the council where Iron Mark cut his teeth and
developed those administrative skills that are going to make Australia
great again under Labor, should he and the ALP win the next election.

And everyone should recall that when the Labor Government sacked the
Council in March it installed a well-known ‘go to girl’ as
administrator, Gabrielle Kibble, the late John Kerr’s daughter. She has
been rotated through a number of government departments and
corporations for the ALP. Planning and Sydney Water spring to mind.

As a planning expert, she would know the problems associated with the
centre and would have realised the problems the Westfield legal action
against the Orange Grove Centre, could cause her political masters, but
she still approved the draft amendment to the Liverpool LEP!

So what happened between April and last Friday when that draft approval
was rejected? Bob’s not saying, but it seems no one has asked all
that seriously. There have been claims of Westfield lobbying the
government and the government (denied by Carr’s office) responding.

The centre was originally due to close on Thursday 15 July, but will
remain open for another six weeks while another appeal is heard.
But it’s no wonder the Government went dead when the story broke
earlier this week. Having the decision pass to assistant Planning
Minister, Diane Beamer was the most obvious sign that this was a nasty
situation for the ALP and Carr.

Beamer assists Craig Knowles, who is the State Planning and
Infrastructure Minister. If it had been a victory, a big deal, Craig
would have been in there like a rat up a drain pipe to make sure he got
full credit and lots of pictures in the local paper. And why.
Well, Craig is the member for the seat of Macquarie Fields, which is in
the Liverpool area. He also spent around 12 years on Liverpool Council
up til 1994. He and his father virtually run the ALP’s affairs in the
area.

Fancy having to announce the closure of a new shopping centre and the
loss of 450 jobs. Wouldn’t have looked good in the branches and in the
local paper. Nor would it have gone down well with the member for
Liverpool, Paul Lynch, a member of the left (Knowles is on the right)
and once an Iron Mark mate, now very much underwhelmed by his former
friend’s rapid rise in the past few months.

Lynch has been very quiet on the Orange Grove Road Centre issue, which
is slap bang in his electorate. Strange that. It’s as though ALP head
office in Sydney and the Premier’s Office has tried to silence the ALP
on this issue.

Julia Irwin is the Federal member for Fowler, which covers Liverpool
and Warwick Farm. She supported the Centre’s owner and operators of the
stores and the employees on this issue. In fact she’s been the only ALP
voice to emerge. The next electorate south is Werriwa, where Mark
Latham, has national issues to worry about.

You can bet London to a brick on that if it had been a Liberal
Party-run Council or Minister which had done this, then Bob, Craig,
Mark, Paul and Diane would have all been jostling for centre stage in
their eagerness to bag the decision.

Westfield and the ALP – a grubby union

Subscriber email – 16 July

By Stephen Mayne

Westfield chairman Frank Lowy is at it again using every tool available
to ruthlessly crush competitors to his giant shopping centre empire.
This time we’re dealing with Liverpool in Western Sydney but the
Federal Labor MP for Fowler, Julia Irwin, is kicking up a big stink and
the media is starting to bite.

Whilst Bob Carr has denied speaking directly to Frank Lowy about the
Land and Environment Court decision to shut down the $40 million Orange
Grove development, you can bet your bottom dollar that intermediaries
of both men have been in the thick of it.

The Sydney Morning Herald has led the coverage on this story as you can
see here and The Australian carried a story yesterday pointing to a
protest at 9am this morning.

You have to ask the question whether Westfield really needs to be so
ruthless and greedy in playing hardball against such an outlet in
Liverpool. After all, Frank Lowy is the second richest Australian with
an estimated wealth of $4.2 billion and he owns 11 per cent of a $27
billion monolith that seems to have bullying, political donations and
dodgy practices as its stock in trade.

When you own 17 shopping centres across NSW, there aren’t that many
major competitors left to crush. Many observers are simply saying that
the Government should override the court and allow the Gazal family’s
complex to remain open to save 450 jobs, even if is technically in an
industrial zone selling goods that are not quite big enough.

After all, who can forget the political support that Westfield was
afforded as it built up that portfolio of 17 centres in its home state.
We only need to quote from page 80 of the company’s own The Westfield
Story: The First 40 years which describes “The battle for Eastgardens”.

The background is that the Wran government wanted tobacco company WD
and HO Wills and Westfield to jointly develop the old General Motors
site in Eastgardens, a suburb which is 5 minutes from Sydney Airport
and 10 minutes from Bondi Junction.

“There was also powerful opposition from three big commercial parties
who had retail outlets of substantial size in the area and believed
their trade would be adversely affected.

“In July 1982, these parties mounted a challenge to the rezoning in the
NSW Land and Environment Court. The future of the development looked
distinctly shaky until a remarkable thing happened. In the second week
of the hearing, the sheriff entered the court with a note for the
judge. The judge read it and called an immediate halt to the
proceedings.

“The NSW Government had intervened. It had passed an Act of Parliament
to end the proceedings and preclude any appeal. Even louder protests
followed, with public debate about the right of the NSW Government to
overrule legal process. However, the anger eventually subsided and the
Westfield Eastgardens Shoppingtown went up on its section of the site.”

In light of this, why on earth can’t the Carr Government follow the
lead of the Wran Government and legislate to protect the $40 million
Gazal project with its 62 retail tenants and 450 employees.

Then again, Westfield has pumped more than $3 million into the ALP over
the past decade and we have no doubt there will be a big cheque heading
Labor’s way for the Federal campaign – provided they don’t do anything
to upset Frank.

It was only last week that Westfield paid up $3.5 million settling a
court case launched by the developers of the old Arnotts factory in
Homebush Bay. This was the notorious site which Westfield paid
political operative Ken Hooper more than $100,000 to cause trouble and
create bogus community opposition.

The “North Strathfield Residents Actions Group” was in fact a Westfield
creation put together and funded through Ken Hooper, the former Nick
Greiner press secretary who has disappeared from the scene after all
the adverse publicity.

Westfield has no qualms in paying whoever they like to get their
shopping centres built and to prevent competitors from cropping up. Try
this list for size:

  • Ken Hooper was paid more than $100,000 to create a bogus community group
  • CFMEU got $80,000 for industrial piece on 3 Victorian sites
  • $750,000 for British Labor Party funds raiser and Blair mate Lord Levy
  • $100,000 to green groups opposing a rival shopping centre outside Sacramento
  • Millions each year in political donations around the world
  • $70,000 defamation settlement to a Gold Coast councillor who allegedly changed his stance on a planning approval