MP's son in council cash row
Inga Peulich with her son Paul. Photo: Peter Cox
LANDHOLDERS in Melbourne's south-east are furious after they bankrolled the election campaign of a Kingston councillor - so he would help rezone their land for development - only to find out he offered a deal to an anti-development councillor in a bid to get elected as mayor.
Questions hang over the funding of last year's election campaign of the councillor, Paul Peulich, son of state MP and powerbroker Inga Peulich. Landholders confirmed to Fairfax Media that donations to Cr Peulich totalled thousands of dollars. Under law, councillors must declare all gifts and money donations over $500. On his official return filed at Kingston Council, Cr Peulich said that he had nothing to declare.
Francine Gerraty, whose Heatherton land has green-wedge development restrictions, said landowners felt abandoned. ''There is certainly a level of concern and discontent among the people who actively and financially supported Cr Peulich,'' she said. ''And there is a sense of disenfranchisement.''
Illustration: Matt Golding.
Ms Gerraty, who is one of the leaders of the coalition of landowners, said that while it was unclear exactly how much had been contributed to Cr Peulich's campaign, she estimated it totalled ''thousands of dollars''. Kingston's slice of the South East Green Wedge runs through Heatherton, Moorabbin and Braeside Park.
These sorts of behind-the-scenes campaign funding deals between potential developers and councillors rarely come to light. The funding of Cr Peulich's campaign only emerged because of circumstances arising from his unsuccessful attempts to become the mayor of Kingston.
Rosemary West told Fairfax Media that, in the lead up to the mayoral vote, Cr Peulich put a deal to her. The deal was that Cr West, a long-time activist against green wedge development, vote for Cr Peulich in return for measures to protect the green wedge, including delaying the rezoning of land in Springvale Road. She did not accept the deal.
The landowners who funded Cr Peulich's campaign are angry because they have since learnt of this proposal. Fellow councillors also confirmed that, since his 8-1 defeat in the mayoral vote, Cr Peulich has lost interest in the cause of property owners in the green wedge.
Cr Peulich has not returned Fairfax Media's phone calls.
Heatherton nursery owner Bruno Diaco told Fairfax Media he had contributed $499 to Cr Peulich's campaign. Fairfax Media understands Cr Peulich had numerous donations under $500 from landowners. It is unclear if any individual donation exceeded the threshold.
The landholders are examining whether Cr Peulich has a conflict of interest over green wedge planning issues because they financed his campaign. If so, he may face the paradox of his own supporters demanding he not vote on the issues for which they backed him.
Fairfax Media revealed on Saturday that upper house MP Inga Peulich intervened directly on behalf of her son in his mayoral bid. She then sought retribution against Liberal-aligned councillors who did not obey her and voted for veteran councillor Ron Brownlees.
On Saturday Ms Peulich, in an email, said the story was ''codswallop''. ''I have never lobbied for mayoral votes for Cr Paul Peulich - he can do that for himself. If you have an email in which I have done this, then I would have expected you to quote from it.''
In one of many leaked emails obtained by Fairfax Media, Ms Peulich writes to a Liberal-aligned councillor, pressing for their support.
In it she claims to have secured backing from Cr West and ALP member Steve Staikos.
''I have ensured that Rosemary and Steve will be voting for Paul, I trust that you will be supporting his bid [for] mayor,'' she writes.
Both Cr West and Cr Staikos deny making such a commitment.
Ms Peulich has refused to be interviewed by Fairfax Media. But in a written statement on Friday she defended her right to influence local politics.
''Any person has the right to be involved in our democracy and its processes. Anyone can support any candidate, but it is up to voters to elect them.''