The stench of corruption is in the air as we learn more about Stuart Robert, his mates Sunland, and the shady players of Gold Coast politics, writes Judy Spence.
TWO WEEKS ago, The Australian reported that Simone Holzapfel, a former long time advisor to Tony Abbott, owed more than $430,000 including $355,000 to the Australian Tax Office when she donated $114,000 to Stuart Robert's election war chest, the Fadden Forum.
At the time, she was a lobbyist for Sunland.
She says the money she donated was her “own money”, but at the time her company, Shac, of which she was the only director, was in the hands of administrators.
On Thursday that week, Judge Clive Wall, veteran to the Southport District Court and Planning and Environment Court, accused the Gold Coast City Council of failing to listen to residents' concerns about developments such as the controversial twin-tower Sunland project earmarked for the Spit as it would see beautiful Broadwater views destroyed.
He said this council seems to be pro-development at any cost.
The same day, we also learned that, back in November 2012, Sunland's lobbyist Simone Holzapfel had lobbied Peta Credlin, Abbott's chief of staff, to tone down the Australian Government's support for two Australians detained indefinitely in Dubai on bribery charges associated with Sunland dealings.
Credlin did not pass the emailed notes on to Abbott, but on the same day, our own Sunland cheer leader, Stuart Roberts, gave a speech in parliament defending Sunland, which he declared was a "solid corporate citizen".
It was revealed that his speech was almost verbatim to the briefing notes provided to him by Holzapfel.
As The Age reported on 29 September 2016:
Mr Robert's speech allegedly put at risk the life of an Australian citizen [Marcus Lee] who was trapped in a nightmarish legal dispute over Sunland's involvement in Middle East property developments.
The notes reveal that, at the time she sent the briefing notes, Holzapfel was working as Gold Coast Mayor Tom Tate's media officer.
Roberts had made another speech in parliament the month before praising Sunland as a "great Queensland company", and its directors as "fine, upstanding men" and "pillars of the community".
Sunland chairman Soheil Abedian personally donated $12,500 to the Queensland Liberal National Party just months after Stuart Robert's speech.
Let's not forget Stuart Roberts was sacked from the front bench because he was caught out doing the bidding of LNP donors.
On 29 September 2016, one of those Australians, Marcus Lee, broke his silence in The Sydney Morning Herald, saying:
'In making those speeches in parliament Mr Roberts not only denied me the presumption of innocence, while a serious criminal case was before the Middle East courts, but in doing so he also put me and my wife's life at risk with total disregard.'
Marcus Lee and his fellow Australian Mathew Joyce spent nine months in jail and a further four years under house arrest. He was fully acquitted in 2013 and returned to Australia. He is now suing Sunland for loss of income, distress and legal costs.
The following email exchange between Stuart Robert and Marcus Lee's friend Rosemary Adam was obtained by The Weekend Australian, and published on 1 October, 2016:
Emails obtained by The Weekend Australian show Mr Robert and Mr Lee’s friend, Rosemary Adam, discussing the deal to secure a statutory declaration for the developer.
“I’ve spoken again to Soheil and he would like the statutory declaration please,’’ Mr Robert wrote on February 13, 2013. “Can I also sound a quick note personally that I think time is now running out for Marcus to have a bargaining chip, as it were.’’
Mr Robert yesterday defended his involvement in the proposal, which didn’t go ahead after Mr Lee refused to be a “bargaining chip’’ or give a statement about dealings of which he had no knowledge.
Roberts is currently chair of Parliament's committee on treaties. The Opposition said this demands someone of the highest integrity and impartiality to fill that role and Mr Roberts is clearly not that person..
Sunland is very successful in getting politicians to use their public positions to advance their causes.
Recently, Mayor Tom Tate bent over backwards to get Sunland's proposal to build 44 storey towers on the public land at the Southport Spit over the line, despite his own planning office's 14 strong recommendations to oppose it.
He even had the editor of the Sunday Mail doing his best to convince people that they wanted to see The Spit covered in high rise towers.
Tate has his own praetorian guard and they pulled out every stop to assist the project get up. Chair of the Planning Committee, Cameron Caldwell, circulated a four page document to his fellow councillors before the Committee voted on the Sunland proposal, justifying grounds to support it despite the strong opposition of his own department.
The Fairfax media reported last week that he received a five word text from Stuart Roberts just prior to the council vote.
The Council meeting itself was a shameless attempt to get the Sunland project over the line, with Tate and Caldwell doing their darndest to convince fellow councillors to support it.
They showed a promotional video from Sunland and even suggested the council might spend millions on a bridge upgrade just to make it happen.
When they realised they didn't have the numbers, they moved a motion to give themselves 12 months to buy time.
This week, Sunland announced that it was withdrawing its plans for the Spit, no doubt because their legal advice would have informed them that they had no chance of winning a case in the Planning and Environment Court. But their media position was that their building would have been a world-class landmark.
They still have not conceded that the majority of the public do not want to see any high rise on this public land. Sunland's determination to built apartment blocks for the mega rich may have the support of the LNP politicians on the Gold Coast.
But as Judge Wall said this week:
"It's important to have an independent umpire in the Planning and Environment Court."
On the same day Sunland withdrew its application, Caldwell called a press conference to say it was the "ultimate gesture of goodwill" on behalf of Sunland. He spoke of his "heavy heart" at Sunland's decision.
It is evident that Caldwell and Sunland showed no acknowledgment of the Reachtel Poll Save our Spit commissioned that showed 60 per cent of people don't want to see high rise on the Spit.
If this isn't murky enough, there'll surely be more to come ...
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