Councils’ Growing Insurgency Against Rate Capping

It is AMAZING that the Casey Council submits an unusual business case for raising rates of 0.97% above the capped level of 2.5%, to cover a shortfall of $1.605mio in a $9mio new investment.

The Herald Sub’s news story (29 May 2016) below confirms that the council is poised to spit the dummy if and when the ESC rejects their rates variation application.

It is no rocket science to clearly see through Casey council’s behaviour, which is part of an ongoing collective groupthink campaign by many councils and their peak bodies to discredit the rates capping policy and to attempt social engineering a strong a public opinion that the rates capping policy does not work.  This campaigning  of course works beautifully for the opposition party’s politicising, conveniently  using councils’ foul cries to claim the rates capping regime is a shambles.  It is all but a poor attempt to enact a Monty Python show.

Street warfare is not only between the anti-Islam and anti-racism protesters. VLGA leaked letter is also revealing that councils and their peak bodies are using street warfare tactics in their social engineering and media propaganda to publicly fight their opponents, especially targeting at ESC, accusing them they lack  understanding of how local government works.  The key difference is the anti Islam and racialism folks use physical violence and councils and the peak bodies use psychological warfare. Both cases are unacceptable, especially more so for council and peak body insurgents.

The naked truth is that how local government currently works now is NOT acceptable and councils and their peak bodies are working hard to defend their legacy empires when eminent and positive changes are rolling out to clean up the system to be more efficacious and community centered. They do NOT like the change, full stop. Anyone involved in implementing the change is an enemy.

The financial justification of Casey’s rates variation application:

What they apply for? They want to increase rates to 3.47%, not 2.5%, to raise $1.605mio to build $9 mio worth of new infrastructure amenities. 

While they ask for $1.605mio extra, they are also making  profit equivalents for the next few years . Presently, they are making profits / surpluses which are significantly above their peers and all councils average.

The dubious budget games:  While enjoying excessively high liquidity, Casey is also maintaining excessively:

  • Over geared working capital ratios, which again are significantly above peers and all councils average (150 – 200% is good practice targets in LG, industry rule of thumb is 150%

  • Over maintaining unrestricted cash reserves, which again are significantly above peers and all councils average. Good practice is under 100%.

Its financial performance indicators also revealed the Council has ample capacity to:

  1. Repay the principal and interest amounts of  its loan exposure, which is anticipated to grows by about 10%, from  ~36% to under 45% of its rate revenue, in the next few years;
  2. Improving  its assets renewal position in the right direction, ie aiming to achieve 90.96% next year, however it plans to reduce capacity to 84.32% by 2019/20.

In 2015, Casey happily spend thousands of dollars on paying ratepayer attendees $120 each to attend a community engagement forum for gauging support for rates increase higher than 2.5% (Berwick Leader, 2015). Obviously, bribe is so blatantly open and public in council practice as well.

It is a no brainer why ESC or any financially literate person would not question Casey’s application for increasing rates above 2.5%, which only asks for a mere $1.605mio. In previous years, it has grabbed more than is needed from its ratepayers excessive rates to build up its over geared liquidity position and any forward explicit and implicit spending for a good number of future years.

Furthermore, the large unrestricted cash and over-geared prudential reserves (eg working capital) would already inflated total revenue, which added significant “fats” in general rates calculation to grab even more from its rate payers. As Casey’s budget methodology is incremental, this deliberate “fat” will be permanently sealed and infused into future budget plans – a new concept of inter-generation budget obesity trend in LG.

One wonders whether the real intention of the rates variation application is to smear the rates capping policy and discredit any party that is committed to make it work.

We need to remind ourselves that LG is not in Wall Street, where the culture is “greed is good”.  It is a subordinate entity to the state portfolio of LG under the management of the Minister of LG, as confirmed in the Victorian Constitution, not MAV and/or VLGA.

Greed has no place in property taxation and municipal service charging. Time to downsize councils and get them operating community centered and like the real world, where lean and best value should be the new black in the land of local government.

Rates capping and service threats

ANDREW JEFFERSON reporting in the Herald Sun (15 Feb 2016):

” COUNCILS are threatening to stop funding vital services provided by the State Emergency Service, childcare centres and school-crossing supervisors if their rates are capped.

But at the same time, they continue to splurge millions of dollars on curious projects.

Most of Melbourne’s 31 councils, and many regional councils, say State Government caps to limit rate hikes to inflation are unsustainable, and they are contemplating scrapping funding for what they consider “state” services.

But ratepayers, calling the threats unethical, are demanding councils control spending.

Rate rises will be capped at 2.5 per cent from July 1.


The Herald Sun has found:

KINGSTON, which is considering ditching SES funding, spent $340,000 on a Kingston Green Wedge Plan in 2014;

MORELAND is spending $73 million a year in wages for its 1000-strong workforce and last year splurged $2500 on a documentary on its $500,000 campaign with Yarra Council to halt the East West Link;

CENTRAL Goldfields, which is scrapping funding for SES units in Dunolly and Maryborough to save $26,000, spent $70,000 in 2012 to cover legal costs of a councillor found guilty of a conflict of interest;

HUME, which spent $50,000 on art made of blackboards in 2014, is reviewing services; and

NORTHERN Grampians, which sent ex-mayor Wayne Rice to China three years ago as part of a government trade mission, closed a childcare centre in Stawell in December.

The SES said Wellington, Central Goldfields, Mitchell, Campaspe, Buloke, Loddon, Darebin and Kingston had all flagged a review of support.

Other “state” services that councils are considering for cuts are home and community care, aged care, disability serv­ices, libraries, and maternal and child health services.

Moreland councillor Oscar Yildiz said the council would struggle to sustain all of its current 100-plus services. But he conceded council probably wasn’t as efficient as possible.

“I don’t want to see people lose their jobs, but I reckon I could save each council in Victoria about $20-30 million in efficiency savings,” he said.

Hume Mayor Helen Patsikatheodorou said council was reviewing all of its services.

“Over the years, we have been contributing more and more and receiving less and less from the state,” she said.

Boroondara, whose chief executive Phillip Storer earns up to $390,000, estimates the cost of school-crossing supervisors, maternal and child services, libraries and home and community care services in 2014/15 was $11.3 million.

Greater Dandenong Council chief executive John Bennie has said the “impact of successive years of rate capping will require us to reduce service levels in future years”.

But Ratepayers Victoria’s Chan Cheah said councils were playing a “blame game”.

“Using the safety of schoolchildren as budget negotiation tactics is not exactly ethical, and reveals a lot more about … governance quality in local government,” Ms Cheah said.

Northern Grampians Mayor Murray Emerson said councils got 3c in the tax dollar compared to states’ 16c and the Commonwealth’s 81c.

“For local government to be sustainable, this needs to change immediately. Each service this council provides has been subject to a stringent review, and services which are not the mandatory responsibility of council will (be) subject to a subsidy decrease,” he said.

Local Government Minister Natalie Hutchins said councils had the capacity to tighten their belts and she would be surprised if any stopped funding popular local services.



The threat: Considering ditching funding, including for SES

What they’ve spent: $340,000 on a Kingston Green Wedge Plan in 2014.


Threat:Reviewing all services

Spent:$73 million a year in staff wages in 2015 and splurged $2500 on a documentary glorifying its $500,000 campaign with Yarra Council to halt the East West Link.


Threat:Reviewing all services

Spent:$50,000 in 2014 on a piece of art made from old blackboards.


The cut:Closed a child care centre in Stawell in December

Spent: Sent former mayor Wayne Rice to China three years ago as part of a government trade mission.


Threat:Estimates the cost of providing school crossing supervisors, maternal and child services, libraries, and home and community care services on behalf of the state in 2014/15 was $11.3 million.

Spent:Chief executive officer Phillip Storer is one of the highest earning in the state with salary up to $390,000 a year.


Threat:SES says the council is considering ditching funding, council says it’s analysing the impact of rate capping.

$100,000 taxpayer-funded grant aimed at countering violent extremism among Muslims to help deal with traffic issues during the religious festival of Ramadan.


Threat:Warns successive years of rate capping will require it to reduce service levels in future.

Spent:$486,332 on parking ticket machines across Dandenong in 2014, which were later vandalised.


Threat:Says rate capping may influence decision making in the future.

Spent: Staff gorged their way through almost $30,000 worth of cakes and slices between 2012 and 2014.


Threat:Says long term rate capping could force it to prioritise services.

Spent:Ratepayers forked out $8000 last year for councillor Fiona McAllister’s childcare fees, including bills for a private carer.


The cut:Scrapped funding for two SES units in Dunolly and Maryborough from July to save $26,000

Spent: $70,000 in 2012 to cover the legal costs of a councillor found guilty of conflict of interest.

SES staff fear for the future

STATE Emergency Services staff say they fear for the future of the vital service if councils ditch funding.

It comes as a fight is brewing over the future of crossing supervisors.

Wellington, Central Goldfields, Mitchell, Campaspe, Buloke, Loddon, Darebin and Kingston have all flagged a review of SES support.

SES Maryborough controller Jesse Wright said he was “pretty concerned” about the branch’s future.

“Our volunteers train for 48 weeks of the year but are we now going to ask them to spend that time shaking donation tins, as well?” he asked.

Central Goldfields, which has ditched SES funding, is also in “serious discussions” with local schools and VicRoads about whether it could continue to fund school crossing supervisors.

“I’m extremely sympathetic to the SES but we don’t subsidise the CFA or Ambulance Victoria, so why should we pay for the SES?” Mayor Geoff Lovett said.

Several rural councils are considering following Northern Grampians Shire, which pulled the plug on school crossing supervisors to save $45,000 a year. “

Supporting Community Call for Revocation motion & review decision to sell aged care facilities

 [This post is a copy of a letter sent to all Councillors]

Ratepayers Victoria (RPV) have been contacted by many Monash ratepayers about their concerns of good governance in the manner in which the Monash & Elizabeth Gardens’ matter was handled. Recently, RPV has been advised that about 10,000 people petitioned against the sale of the 2 aged care residential facilities. RPV has been interviewing several hundreds of these people and majority of their complaints is not about the decision direction. They were concerned about the lack of transparency and accountability demonstrated in the decision making process. This process also includes the Expression of Interest (EoI) to investigate the intent to sell and now the remainder of the sale process in compliance to the Local Government Act section 189.

RPV has noted that Council has exercised legal compliance procedure in handling the selling process BUT lacks leadership motivation for showing transparency and accountability of the social impacts of the decision to sell the 2 aged residential facilities.

Good governance is not just about legal compliance but interacts with leadership that supports transparency and shows accountability for widely accepted social decisions. Through their observable behaviours, communications and interactions with each other, the five Councillors who voted to sell the aged care facilities have made up their minds and collectively support each other to ignore the fact that their ill-founded arguments for selling is not widely accepted in the community.

These five Councillors are lacking in ethical leadership because of the many reasons the community have highlighted, which consolidates to 3 themes – lacking process and information transparency, poor community consultation and lacking completeness, factuality and research validity of information used in decision-making.

In 2012, the Council knew about the Sweett Consultant’s proposal recommending to sell the 2 aged care residential facilities. On 25 June 2013 and behind a closed meeting, the Council unanimously supported this consultant’s proposal and voted to investigate an EoI to sell the facilities. Unlike past asset sale precedents, the community had not be given the opportunity to be consulted about the matter in its early inception and to this date there is no open disclosure of what were in this Sweett’s proposal or business case that justified the recommendation to consider selling. Anecdotal sources said that this recommendation is some individuals’ self-interests to use legal compliant Council procedures to execute a coveted plan that can avail cash for investing in building a new library and community hub that is part of the Glen Waverley Activity Centre master-plan, also developed during 2012.

This anecdotal information, together with other concerns addressed in the many questions to Council, raise too many questions of ethical decision making despite complying correctly in a procedurally legal context.  The answers given by Council are too general, usually avoiding answering the questions, and continue to raise issues of trustworthiness of the responses given and the ethical validity of the 5 Councillors’ overruling decision to sell. During the 29 Oct meeting, the key basis of these 5 Councillors were ill founded, solely motivated by ill founded financial justification and ignores the voice of 10,000 petitioners who are asking for a better transparent and accountable decision making process before finalising a well informed decision.

The Monash Community is asking the Council to consider reviewing a community based solution, which has been excluded in the Sweett Consultant’s proposal and Councillors’ justifications communicated to inquiring community members. Without including this alternative, the decision making process is based on incomplete information and the majority voted decision outcome is therefore not well informed and lacks unbiasedness in intentions.

Furthermore, my committee members and I have attended Council meetings and believe five Councillors were affixed in their minds to sell regardless of the costs to the community. They presented arguments that lacks address thoroughness in solution considerations and cannot clearly indicate the actual cost of doing nothing other than it cost “tens of millions” of dollars. To have such arbitrary information to justify an important community decision not only shows the poor quality of decision making but also the level of competency of the decision makers. In the past, these five Councillors often show passionate community advocacy, such their resolve to overturn a decision to sell the Oakleigh Swimming pool, which only supported a small number of users and to this day has incurred significant cost deficits for Council. The lead Councillor who advocate for the Oakleigh Swimming pool user group, chickened out from voting his decision by being absent.

RPV commemorate the four new Councillors who voted against selling the aged care facilities. Initially, they agreed to consider commencing the EoI process, that is the start of the sale process. However, they consulted and listened to the community, reviewed their decision and communicated that they did not make a well-informed decision earlier. They also admitted that they have not know about and therefore considered the community based solution, nor have not evaluated the social impacts on all segments of the Monash community. Given this situation, they admitted their decision-making lacks sufficient information to support a well advised decision. In the 24 October Council meeting, they have voted responsibly against the sale in this situation.

Many ratepayers have complained to RPV about political fractions in the Monash Council for a very long term. The dividing relationship conflicts between ALP and Liberal affiliated Councillors have become too influencing in many decision directions and is increasingly becoming obviously visible in  open behaviour conducts, body language, things being said in Council meetings and local press. It comes to the stage that the community is fed up with such growing political games being carried out in Council, which is not a parliamentary environment.

The community has indicated to us that they are submitting a request that Council carry out a revocation motion. Based on what we have observed as unethical decision making, although legally compliant, we too support this proposal for carrying out a revocation motion.

Ratepayers Victoria is asking every Councillor to support a revocation motion, including considering to investigate a community-based model before making a final decision. Should you refuse to act on this community driven request, we have no choice but to view that your leadership is one that pursues procedurally legal compliance and poorly justified financial returns and disregards explicit support for other aspects of good governance principles and against the interests of the community who voted for you.

This is the “one size fits all” answer many people got from Geoff Lake, our new “I-centred” Mayor who determines what ratepayer should have and not have.

Dear Jack

 Thank you for your email to councillors on the weekend requesting that Council revoke its decision to progress the transfer of Monash Gardens and Elizabeth Gardens to a new operator.

 As you know, this matter has been canvassed extensively in the past few months leading up to the decision made last week by Council.  There has been significant community and media interest and every councillor has been engaged in different ways with members of the support groups and the wider community generally in working through the issues involved.  Although councillors had different perspectives on the issue and there was spirited debate over whether or not to progress the transfer, Council did formally resolve to do so.  As one of the councillors who supported this direction, I assure you that this was not an easy decision, however it was one that we are confident is in the best interests of the existing 165 nursing home and hostel residents at the two facilities, as well as also being in the best interests of Monash ratepayers more generally.

 There has been no new information which has come to light, or anything which has changed, between the decision taken by Council last Tuesday and the present time.  As such, there is no basis to suggest that Council would be, or should be, of a different mind if re-visiting this decision now compared to the position we were in last week.  While I know that you and many family members strongly disagree with Council’s decision, Council was acutely aware of your positions prior to making our decision.  For Council to have proceeded in the face of such strong and well organised opposition when it would have been far easier for us to have simply abandoned the process, demonstrates Council’s conviction that the decision we have taken represents the best outcome for residents and ratepayers alike.

 Accordingly, I advise that Council will not revoke the resolution passed last week.  I think it is important that our position be communicated quickly to you and other interested members of the community as I firmly believe that it is not in the interests of residents at the facilities to hold unrealistic hopes otherwise.

 Since the decision, Council has taken steps to commence the due diligence process whereby the short-listed bidders can discover more information about the facilities in order to refine their offers into binding legal offers for Council to consider further.  This is also an opportunity for Council to conduct further due diligence on these parties and also to negotiate in relation to such things as a covenant/section 173 agreement to restrict the future use of the land at Monash Gardens.  As has been made clear to residents and family members throughout this process, we would be interested to engage with them in working through some of these aspects to assist with ensuring that we achieve the best transition outcome possible for existing residents.

 I think it is important to address some of the points you have asserted in your letter.  I disagree with your view that the process Council has pursued over the past four months has been flawed.  Council had been consulting with affected residents, their families and the wider communities for almost four months prior to us making a decision last week.  I think four months provided ample opportunity to residents of the facilities, their families and councillors to fully and comprehensively consider the issues and express a view.

 I also disagree with your view that some councillors brought a closed or biased mind to this issue.  Councillors have proactively considered, debated, wrestled with, reflected upon and refined their individual viewpoints on this issue over the past four months.  In fact, I was unaware of the position of any councillor in terms of whether they did or did not support the sale process proceeding until a few days prior to last week’s Council meeting when councillors considered the draft recommendation at a briefing meeting.  Even then, the position of at least four councillors was not known to me until they made contributions to debate during Council’s consideration of the item last week.

 It is important to bear in mind that Council’s decision last week was the culmination of an exhaustive process of community consultation and an expression of interest (EOI) process which placed Council in an excellent position to determine an appropriate path forward.  I think it is also relevant that by resolving to progress the transfer, Council was acting in furtherance of the professional advice and recommendation of its senior officers and the expert EOI evaluation committee.  Of course, Council alone is responsible for our decision and I am not trying to deflect that responsibility, however, I am simply pointing out that the inference in your email that our decision was stubbornly, politically or otherwise unwisely made, is simply not accurate or fair.  Indeed, our decision was the outcome of a long and careful process and aligned with the professional advice of Council officers.

 I acknowledge that you and many others disagree with our decision.  However, please be assured that those of us who are responsible for making it, have reached our position on the basis of considering all of the relevant information available to us, including the valuable representations which you and others have made to us.


 Geoff Lake


5 Monash Councillors are saying Money First before Elderly People

Monash Council’s Grab for Cash

 On 29 Oct 2013, Monash councillors voted 5 to 4 to sell off the aged care facilities Monash Gardens and Elizabeth Gardens. A conservative estimated value of sale proceeds is expected between $10m to $20m, if not higher. However, according to Cr Davies, after transaction cost reductions, the net cash return can be half, ie between $5m to under $10m.

The four Councillors who voted against it because:

  • there is no  good financial reason to sell; the financial problems are structural and can be fixed; it is irresponsible to sell during a poor
  • they have a legislative responsibility to listen and support a community who does not want the facilities to be sold,
  • Money and numbers do not tell the story – there is no understanding about the people impacts
  • Not enough solution alternatives have considered to support a well informed decision making.

The five who supported selling all agreed on the basis of:

  • Financial non affordability but failed to quote an exact figure of how much is needed to upgrade/refurnish the facilities – all they can say is “tens of millions”
  • There is no economy of scale because only 165 people are using the facilities
  • There is a professional industry that can best offer aged care  (despite people telling them our residential aged care facilities already enjoy over 20 years history of high standard of the quality of care).

 On the 28 May 2013, Council voted to conduct a review of car parking arrangements in Glen Waverley. Cr Geoff Lake said that “it was an exciting time in Glen Waverley; it was changing rapidly and for the better. Council is finalising the Glen Waverley Activity Centre Master Plan, which would be released for public consultation in the second half of the year. A successful Activity Centre needs its car parking requirements to be managed well. This Activity Centre currently has close to a surplus of car parking, but that situation will not last long”.

On 24 September 2013, Council staff concluded that current arrangement is not currently at capacity and suggest a review in 12 month’s time.



From Council Agenda 24th September


A review of the parking arrangements in the Glen Waverley Activity Centre has been completed. This review included:

  • Traffic surveys to understand the actual utilisation of parking in the centre.
  • A survey of local traders and Council staff to understand the issues associated with relocating parking from the Bogong (multi-deck) parking area to the Euneva East (multi-deck) parking area.

The parking surveys demonstrate that there is parking availability in the centre and the current arrangements are adequate based on current usage patterns. Further, the results demonstrate that the Bogong parking area is not currently operating at capacity except in the evenings (after 5 pm).

 Cr Geoff Lake expressed concern that the under capacity condition does not meet future needs and recommended to relocate the Bogong Avenue car-park to the Euneva car park not just based on his concern but support by the Glen Waverley Traders’ Association. Other Councillors disagree and/or view that there are other activity centres that require capital developments, not just Glen Waverley.

 In the same meeting, he also said as the chair of the Glen Waverley Activity Centre Master-planning Steering Committee he supported the $18-$23m proposal and presumed that potential funding would be determined via the Council’s budget process. The development of an integrated library and community hub was a key integral part of the master-plan.

The big question is WHY is Cr Lake proposing to support relocating Bogong Avenue car-park when it is underutilized today ? It is a no brainer that the likely reason is the integrated library and community hub is to be built on the existing car park site.

Ratepayers Victoria also believes that the sale of council aged care facilities is related to the Bogong Ave multilevel deck car park redevelopment proposed by Cr Lake. The reason is that Council has no other cash reserves and is hesitant to hike up rate increases for such large scale new capital works, and the sale has been engineered behind the scene way before 25 June 2013 Council meeting. What Councillors did not expect was the high community backslash, which will still continue despite the 29 Oct  per-orchestrated groupthink decision to sell.


Jack Davis

Dumped: Labor candidate for Hotham, Monash Councillor Geoff Lake

 Quote from Prime Minister Kevin Rudd:

‘‘If you’re going to talk about a new way for Australian politics, which is positive, not negative, brings people together, doesn’t divide people, but also is respectful of people, including their gender, then I believe you’ve got to take some hard decisions from time to time. That’s what we’ve done, and I stand by them.’’

The Prime Minister had issued a statement late on Saturday night saying he had asked for Mr Lake to be disendorsed following an investigation by ALP national secretary George Wright and said ” …….I cannot be confident that he has met the standards that I would expect and demand from members of the federal parliamentary Labor Party.”

Read more from the Age 10 Aug 2013

ABC News (11 Aug 2013) also reported

The Labor Party’s election campaign has been stunned by the loss of two candidates in one day, just a week into the campaign.

Prime Minister Kevin Rudd has been forced to dump the Labor Party’s candidate for the safe Victorian seat of Hotham, Geoff Lake, over his failure to disclose an altercation with a colleague 11 years ago.

Meanwhile, Labor’s charge for the north Queensland seat of Kennedy, Ken Robertson, has stood aside over comments he made about Opposition Leader Tony Abbott.

Last night Mr Rudd issued a statement saying he had requested the party’s national executive remove Mr Lake as the endorsed Labor candidate for Hotham.

Mr Lake, a Monash councillor, last month won a bitterly fought pre-selection to contest the seat being vacated by long-serving Labor frontbencher Simon Crean.

Mr Crean’s former seat is currently a very safe Labor electorate, with a margin of 14 per cent.

But Mr Lake lost the Prime Minister’s confidence after he was forced to apologise for verbally abusing a fellow councillor during an argument at a Monash Council meeting 11 years ago.

News Corporation newspapers reported that Mr Lake apologised to the woman at the time and regretted his actions.

“I was a young mayor and I got angry one night and I spoke to her in angry way, which I acknowledged then and I acknowledge now,” Mr Lake said, according to News Corp.

Mr Rudd says he has stepped in.

“Earlier today, I asked the National Secretary to report on a range of allegations concerning Mr Lake’s conduct in his previous career in local government – in particular his conduct in relation to fellow councillors at the City of Monash Council,” Mr Rudd said.

“The National Secretary has informed me that he is not satisfied that there has been full disclosure about these previous matters.

“Based on the investigation, I have concluded that it is inappropriate for Mr Lake to continue as the endorsed Labor Candidate for Hotham.

“As such I cannot be confident that he has met the standards that I would expect and demand from members of the Federal Parliamentary Labor Party.”

Within minutes Mr Lake’s profile had been removed from the party’s website. Mr Lake has not returned the ABC’s phone calls.”

More news visit:

  1. ABC news 11 Aug 2103
  3. The Age 10 Aug 2103
  4. The Australian 10 Aug 2103

A few weeks ago, this is what Geoff Lake had to say about he representing ALP’s “generation next”  – click here to watch the video.

More election dirt …..

One candidate used an illegal “vote harvesting” scheme (Source- The Age):

Detectives remove items after the raid on the city offices.Detectives remove items after the raid on the city offices. Photo: Jason South


Who is Azeezur Rahaman?

Police have raided the city offices of a Melbourne Council candidate, dramatically escalating investigations into suspected vote-rigging ahead of this weekend’s election.

Azezzur Rahaman, a candidate for the upcoming Melbourne City Council elections.Azeezur Rahaman, a candidate for the upcoming Melbourne City Council elections. Photo: Jason South

Police and local government officers investigating an illegal “vote harvesting” scheme entered the Queen Street offices of Azeezur Rahaman today.

Mr Rahaman owns the multi-million-dollar Southern Cross Education Institute, which teaches 1000 local and international students childcare, business and aged-care courses and employs 110 people.

The local government watchdog made its move on Mr Rahaman after a painstaking five-week investigation tracking a batch of between 450 and 500 suspect voter applications, discovered by the City of Melbourne and revealed in The Age last month.

The Local Government Investigation and Compliance Inspectorate confirmed Victoria Police executed search warrants on two Melbourne properties today and seized evidence including documentation and communications equipment such as computers and mobile telephones.

The council has removed the suspect voter applications from the certified roll, so they will not affect the outcome of the election. The fraudulent batch of votes included anomalies such as 25 people living in a one-bedroom apartment and another 30 living at an address with no physical building.

As the No. 1 candidate for one of the nine main leadership teams, Mr Rahaman may be elected to council this weekend. Most residents have already lodged their postal votes and voting closes on Friday afternoon.

The latest developments come after a series of issues in the lead-up to the poll, including suggestions of bullying and ballot theft and calls from The Age for candidates to reveal their financial backers in a bid to promote transparency.

If the Inspectorate collected any evidence, it would take weeks to prepare a brief and launch a prosecution for high-level corruption offences under the Local Government Act.

A conviction carries penalties of up to five years’ prison or fines up to $84,000, and a ban from holding office as a councillor for seven years.

Mr Rahaman is the leading council candidate on the “Community and Business Leadership” team headed by African-Australian lord mayor aspirant and 2009 Victorian of the Year Berhan Ahmed. The team’s deputy lord mayor candidate is city real estate agent Sunny Lu. The team is managed by active Australian Labor Party man and former Hobsons Bay mayor Bill Tehan.

Mr Rahaman came to Melbourne in 2000 from India to study information technology at Swinburne University of Technology. In 2004, he started a small IT training company with money he had saved working nights at a petrol station. Three years later he opened the Southern Cross Education Institute

Another dirt is using fake pamphlets (source: The Age):

DIRTY tricks and “dirt sheets” continue to sully council elections across Melbourne with one Moreland candidate’s letterhead hijacked to wrongly tell residents he supported building new Mosques.

Mohammed Elrafihi was yesterday alerted by phone calls from concerned supporters who told him they had received a campaign letter, riddled with spelling errors, with his name and picture on it.

“It’s time to deliver, time to deliver new Mosques in Moreland”, it read.

Mr Elrafihi, 25, who is running for council for the first-time as a Labor-member candidate for the North-East Ward, spent yesterday with the Victorian Electoral Commission and police. He was told the appropriation of his letterhead may constitute defamation.

“I find it hard to believe anyone would denigrate another by using race – just to win an election”, he said in a press release.

Mr Elrafihi, who is Muslim, was told by the local pamphlet distributor that another man had come in after him last weekend saying he had extra material to distribute. The distributor did not know the man but Mr Elrafihi said he had some idea who was responsible.

Meanwhile, further south in the City of Kingston three councillors said they would lodge official complaints against an opponent, fearing their re-election campaigns have been unfairly damaged by “dirt sheets” distributed across the south-east suburbs.

Councillors Rosemary West, Trevor Shewan and Steve Staikos say they have been cleared by the local government inspectorate of any wrongdoing over allegations they misused council funds and this week expect to be cleared of bullying claims. The City of Kingston is awaiting an external report on the bullying allegations.

The councillors are pursuing action against Liberal candidate Justin Scott, who authorised material that was distributed across Moorabbin, Oakleigh South, Clayton South, Cheltenham, Mordialloc and Chelsea highlighting the investigations.

The trio also claims Liberal MP Inga Peulich has been trying to exert influence on the composition of the council in the lead-up to this week’s election.

Ms Peulich raised the bullying claims in Parliament earlier this month. Her son, Paul, is also a Kingston councillor and is a direct opponent of Cr Staikos, a Labor councillor, in the north ward.

One flyer claims the three councillors “delayed the handing down of a report into bullying investigations made against them” by a council staffer. The trio has denied this.

Cr Staikos said the material – which has been described in the area as “dirt sheets or s— sheets” – had been posted directly to every voter in his ward and that it had damaged his reputation.

He said he knew of at least one voter who had been swayed by the material, although “dozens” of people had contacted him complaining about it. Cr Staikos said he had complained to the Victorian Electoral Commission and had sought legal advice over whether it was defamatory.

Mr Scott defended distributing the flyers, saying there was a clear public interest and that he had evidence the trio delayed a bullying investigation. He would not say what that was.

“All I’m trying to do is bring it out in the open, saying these people who are claiming they are transparent are not necessarily independent,” he said.

Mr Scott also defended targeting candidate David Eden, claiming he was not the independent he said he was. Mr Eden’s father, Nick, stood for Labor in the 2000 federal election and as a Bayside councillor, but both reiterated yesterday David was not affiliated with any party.

Nick Eden said the targeting of his 18-year-old son was as nasty as he had witnessed in politics and that Mr Scott needed to have a “good hard look at himself”.

David Eden said he had also lodged a complaint over the material.

Ms Peulich, who last year commended Mr Scott for contesting the seat of Clayton in the 2010 state election, referred questions over her involvement to the Kingston mayor and chief executive. She could not be contacted for interview.