Following on from yesterday’s Australian front page story – Mayor ‘failed to disclose nightclub grants’ – that’s now the subject of a Crime and Misconduct Commision (CMC) complaint, Crikey spoke with colourful Gold Coast Mayor Ron Clarke today, over what he believes is basically a night club lobby dummy spit being orchestrated by rival councillors. Or at least its publication in the paper.

The Gold Coast Licensed Venues Association alleges that the former running legend failed to disclose up to $20,000 in donations he received from Gold Coast nightclubs for his successful election campaign to become Mayor in March, 2004.

The Association argued it paid for advertising supporting Clarke’s campaign and such in-kind donations are required to be declared under the Local Government Act. But in fact as Mayor Clarke argues today, he says the support he received was purely incidental to his campaign in which he had no involvement with the lobby’s activities, beyond them supporting his public position of a 5am closure.

“The issue at the time was that the previous Mayor Gary Baildon supported night clubs closing at 3am,” Clarke told Crikey. “I was a champion of a 5am closing, and even now I can see a reason for clubs staying open beyond that if they served breakfast to patrons. So yes I was for much later closing but at that time to my knowledge it wasn’t bought up about having a lock-out at 3am.”

(No new patrons are admitted to Coast nightclubs after that hour, which has now been adopted in Brisbane and south-east Queensland). “If they had bothered to check, or I don’t recall being asked, I have always been for a 3am lock-out while premises stayed open until 5am”).

“As I recall the campaign regarding the Association, I supported a 5am closing, while Baildon wanted to close clubs at 3am, and a 3am lock-out as such wasn’t even mentioned then. It was very simple – if you wanted 3am closing vote Baildon, or 5am vote Clarke.”

But according to The Australian, the Association which claimed to have taken out extensive newspaper advertising over three days and sent between 50-60,000 SMS text messages to its nightclub data base members to vote for Clarke, Clarke’s subsequent support for a 3am lock-out was “a complete turnaround.” Association chairman Jim Bell said that if they’d known that during the campaign, they would have stuck with Baildon. “He accepted $20,000 worth of support and then he turned on us.”

Clarke says he was not involved in any way in the Association campaign so therefore had nothing to declare with regard to any in-kind support.

“But the Association is now trying to confuse the public with this issue by claiming my subsequent support for a 3am lock-out is the same as Baildon wanting a 3am closure.”

Also confusing is the article’s headline and its curious use of the term “grant” to describe what the Association claims to be a near $20,000 donation to Clarke. But the Mayor points out that any formal in-kind support or advertising on that basis would not only require his agreement but have to be officially incorporated into his authorised campaign advertising as such. Not only didn’t this happen but for the association to now claim such a basis, would in fact leave it in breach of the Local Government Act.

But it seems this hasn’t stopped the association from referring its claims against Clarke to the CMC.

“Anyone standing for Local Government can attract all kinds of self-interest groups who support their campaign,” Clarke reasons. “Everyone from education or hospital lobbies to retirees, take out advertising to support candidates who they see supporting their point of view. But they’re not a part of the candidate’s own campaign. Just as the nightclubs had anything to do with me other than they saw agreement with my stand at the time.”

Given the volatile nature of Gold Coast City Council internal bickering among councillors and agitating lobby groups, Mayor Clarke some months ago estimated to Crikey that as many as 17 complaints had been made to the CMC – which hardly makes this latest one any more credible.