A Melbourne council described by ALP insiders as the “new Brimbank” is being probed by the Victorian Ombudsman on up to three fronts, and the fallout has the potential to plague the Brumby Government for years to come.

Sources say that high-level investigations are continuing into Casey Council, in Melbourne’s rapidly expanding south-eastern suburbs, with the probes set to examine a raft of new allegations relating to dodgy deals and undue ALP influence.

According to this damning article, which appeared yesterday in the Berwick News, former mayor Janet Halsall has written to Victorian Ombudsman George Brouwer, demanding an enquiry into bullying by her ALP aligned-rivals on the council. Halsall, a former party member, was defeated as mayor after the Labor-dominated ruling faction moved against her over their desire to oust Casey CEO Mike Tyler.

The crack-up, which has been firing on full cylinders for over a year, centres on a campaign by the ruling Labor Right faction to rid themselves of the veteran CEO, who in the eyes of the dominant forces, was thought to be insufficiently pliable. When Halsall hit back against her rival councilors’ attempts to oust Tyler late last year, she was set upon by the clique, who told her “it’s either Mike or you”, according to insiders. Tyler remains as Casey CEO.

According to insiders, Halsall is particularly at odds with Casey councilor Kevin Bradford, who works in the office of the state member for Narre Warren North and parliamentary secretary Luke Donnellan. A bullying investigation into Bradford was dismissed earlier this year by local government minister Dick Wynne.

Like Planning Minister Justin Madden’s office in the Brimbank case, Donellan’s office is believed to have functioned as an unofficial power base for the ruling faction at Casey. The Ombudsman’s report into Brimbank included claims that Justin Madden’s electorate officer Hakki Suleymen had asserted undue influence over that council’s affairs.

In both cases, councilors auspiced by the party’s top brass appear to have declared war on factional rivals to protect their power base. Last year, Donnellan-connected forces are said to have issued an ultimatum to the then-mayor Halsall that either she supported the move to sack Tyler or support would be withdrawn.

In coming months, Bradford will be forced to choose between his position on the council and Donellan’s office, when Premier John Brumby moves to ban the intermingling of political and council work, a key recommendation of the Ombudsman’s report into Brimbank.

Another Casey councilor, Daniel Mulino, works in the Box Hill office of born-again Senator Jacinta Collins. But Mulino, highly regarded in party circles as a future MP, is said to be distancing himself from the unfolding Casey scandal and according to insiders is expected to resign before Brumby’s legislation is passed.

Crikey contacted Mulino to verify this but he would not comment.

The central issue at both Casey and Brimbank centres on undue influence wielded by cliques of councilors who although theoretically “independent”, rarely voted outside a pre-determined pattern. Interestingly a set of official ALP rules enforcing pre-caucusing on councils has been removed from the web this week, but has been preserved elsewhere.

ALP members on Casey council say that they aren’t required to follow the rules because they are not officially endorsed candidates. But Crikey understands that prior to this week’s council meeting, the ruling clique met behind closed doors for about an hour, divvying up votes and delaying the start of proceedings.

While some of Halsall’s claims could be dismissed as sour grapes following her dubious handling of last year’s Cranbourne gas leak crisis, any finding issued by the Ombudman is likely to reverberate across the state and fuel latent frustration against the stodgy political hardmen that, in effect, run Victoria.

Crikey contacted a spokesperson for the Ombudsman this morning, who refused to comment on matters currently under investigation.