Ms PATTEN (Northern Metropolitan) (12:13): My question is for the Minister for Local Government, Mr Somyurek, and it concerns allegations of corruption in the City of Greater Dandenong. Recently we have seen allegations of criminal behaviour by council officers in relation to the closure of catering company I Cook Foods.
A whistleblower, Ms Kim Rogerson, who worked as an environmental health officer at the council, has provided a sworn statement explaining how council officers illegally manufactured evidence in order to close I Cook Foods down and that this was known by managers at the City of Greater Dandenong.
Given these serious allegations of corruption and criminality, my question to the minister is: what steps have you taken to address this scandal at the City of Greater Dandenong?
Mr SOMYUREK (South Eastern Metropolitan—Minister for Local Government, Minister for Small Business) (12:14): I would like to thank the member for her question. On the substance of this issue, being the closing down of the business, Ms Mikakos has previously answered questions with regard to that. I understand your question is a little bit different. Your question relates to allegations of inappropriate behaviour; you used a pretty strong term.
My understanding of this issue is that the CEO referred the matter to IBAC. IBAC had a look at it and then referred it to the Ombudsman. The Ombudsman then did an investigation and found that there was nothing to see, I guess, and gave it the all clear.
My understanding, again from media reports, is that the aggrieved party, let us just say, is appealing that decision. What we have got in this state is a robust council integrity framework, and in this instance the council has gone to the right body, to IBAC, because there is a conflict of interest, or at least a perceived conflict of interest, in council being seen to be trying to investigate this particular issue with the nature of the allegations as they are. IBAC, being a key integrity body, referred the matter to the Ombudsman.
The Ombudsman is a trusted and key part of the integrity framework in this state. We have not received any recommendations or any findings from any of those integrity bodies. If we had and there was something for us to do and it was relevant to my area of jurisdiction, we certainly would have given that very, very serious consideration.
Any recommendation or any finding coming from the integrity bodies of this state, I can assure you, this government will give very serious consideration to. I have also read reports that the company involved was going to lodge other court proceedings. Defamation was one. At this stage there is nothing I can do, because it has gone to the integrity bodies, and the integrity bodies have not made any recommendations or any findings.
Ms PATTEN (Northern Metropolitan) (12:17): Thank you, Minister, for your response. Given it is expected in the coming weeks that Victoria Police will charge key council staff with the planting of evidence—a slug—and other crimes, will the minister consider suspending the City of Greater Dandenong council until he can be sure that any corruption has been eradicated?
Mr SOMYUREK (South Eastern Metropolitan—Minister for Local Government, Minister for Small Business) (12:17): I will not be pre-empting what the police are going to do.
The way I make decisions as a minister of the Crown is that I rely on expert advice, I rely on the weight of evidence and, most importantly, I rely on the notion of natural justice, so I will not be suspending the council or anyone else associated with the council at this stage. And I do not have the power to suspend individuals on council, by the way.
Let us just wait for the result of the police investigation, and then we can see what steps need to be taken after that.
Fiona Patten MP
Leader of Reason
Member for Northern Metropolitan Region
Question without notice 13/11/19