Electoral funding ?biggest concern

By LUIS FELIU

THE NSW Governmentappointed inquiry into Tweed Shire Council should investigate discrepancies in electoral funding of the majority pro-development councillors, according to Southern Gold Coast Chamber of Commerce president Barry McNamara.

Mr McNamara welcomed the inquiry "if it clears the air and allows them (Tweed Shire Council) to get on with it".

"Incidents like the electoral funding thing need looking at, but I have confidence in the councillors that are there," he said.

Mr McNamara was referring to election-funding declarations which listed the annual Wintersun Festival in Coolangatta - of which he is a director - as the donor of $1000 to a massive local government election fund which benefited the six pro-development councillors.

Mr McNamara has de- nied that he or anyone associated with the festival had made the donation to Tweed Directions, the body set up by Tweed developer Alan Blundell and Gold Coast public-relations consultant Graham Staerk to channel funds to pro-business/development candidates in the March election.

The issue was raised by the NSW Local Government Minister Tony Kelly when he announced the inquiry yesterday, saying the discrepancy on such a donation had to be investigated.

"This doesn't ring true and could be a serious breach - people only do that if they are trying to hide something," Mr Kelly said.

Mr McNamara said though his chamber was not directly involved with the Tweed, it did keep a watching brief on decisions by Tweed Council which affected business just across the border on the southern Gold Coast.

"I think overall they're (councillors) doing a good job and they're a fairly new team that probably needs time to settle down," he said.

Mr Staerk said the government inquiry "is a good thing on the basis that once it's been run people will see that the campaign did reach the highest standards of propriety, transparency and honesty".

"We've said ad nauseum that the process of Tweed Directions was about keeping donations at arms length from councillors and if the concern of that inquiry is that that occurred, we've probably met the criteria," he said.

"We announced it before the election so ratepayers had that in mind ... and the election was won fair and square.

"The amount of money raised was a testament to what was required to run a competent campaign.

"I think if the other eight candidate groups had raised that sort of money, they wouldn't be complaining now."

The minister, Tony Kelly, said the majority group of councillors who were perceived as being pro-development, received electoral donations of $340,000, more than three times the combined donations to parties in the Sydney City elections.

Most of that money was channelled through Tweed Directions.



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