Melissa FyfeAugust 22, 2010
DEVELOPERS wielded influence over the state government in covert ways, were pushy and loved to have ”a word in the ear” of party leaders about their substantial political donations, former planning minister Mary Delahunty has revealed in her memoir.
In contrast to the assurances of Premier John Brumby and Planning Minister Justin Madden, Ms Delahunty says developers who make donations to the Labor Party do get their interests looked after by Brumby government advisers, who sometimes contact the planning minister’s office inquiring about the development’s progress.
Ms Delahunty revealed her intense frustration with some community anti-development groups. In her new book Public Life, Private Grief, she says she felt, at times, like ”wanting to lean over and choke them”.
Ms Delahunty, Victoria’s planning minister from 2002 to 2005, describes developers as having ”brutal expectations” about the pace of planning changes and their financial reward.
”Well-heeled developers assume that their at-times substantial donations to the Labor or Liberal parties will guarantee ready access to the minister and a favourable planning decision.”
While ”most of us in government” did not share the view of such developers, she said, the business heavyweights ”loved” to have ”a word in the ear of party leaders” at private functions, ”congratulating them on how well the government was going and adding a throwaway line about their latest donation to the particular party”.
”Such bonhomie could occasionally result, a day or two later, in a friendly call to the planning minister office from a government adviser interested in certain planning matters.”
The Brumby government has consistently denied that developers get special access or treatment due to their donations, or that they wield influence in Labor fund-raising functions. Last August, when controversy over ”cash-for-chat” functions blew up, Mr Brumby said: ”I wouldn’t talk to anybody in any forum about any contract that is before government, about any tender that is before government.”
The former planning minister does not name names, but she appears to have the residents group who fought the development of Camberwell station – and their star campaigner actor Geoffrey Rush – in mind when she writes: ”One such group, spawned by an uncompromising desire to preserve their comfortable suburb in aspic, tried to manage the media and minister adroitly.
”These folk never let the facts stand in the way of a good story, nor missed an opportunity to wheel out a visiting thespian for vivid and outraged support.”
Of meetings with some community organisations she said she ”found [herself] either admiring their single-mindedness or wanting to lean over and choke them”. The planning community groups could be just as ”venal and vain” as developers when their ”narrow self-interest” was threatened.
Ms Delahunty’s book, to be released tomorrow, documents her decline into clinical depression after the death of her husband, Melbourne journalist Jock Rankin, of cancer in 2002.
A star recruit to the Labor Party in 1998, Ms Delahunty’s career was marked by several high-profile bungles. In 2005 the former education minister was confined to the portfolios of arts and women’s affairs after criticism of her handling of planning.
In 2006 she resigned, citing health reasons, although she now reveals she left because she had clinical depression.
In 2008-09, the Victorian Labor Party declared that developers Grocon, Becton, Bensons Property Group, Central Equity and the Walker Corporation donated a total of $100,000 to the party. The next year, no specific donations from developers were listed on the party’s disclosure return to the Australian Electoral Commission, but developer donations were included in a lump sum to the party from its fund-raising outfit Progressive Business.
Planning Minister Justin Madden was recently criticised for intervening in an increasingly large number of projects, with little transparency around why he is intervening and which Labor-linked lobbying groups are involved. In June, The Age revealed that builders and property developers have bankrolled Victorian Labor with donations running into the millions during its decade in office.