Council candidate signage at a Gold Coast library pre-polling venue last year.
Council candidate signage at a Gold Coast library pre-polling venue last year. David Clark

The council elections facing a Crime and Corruption inquiry

THE reason for the state's corruption watchdog starting public hearings today into the Gold Coast City Council elections is to gain more evidence leads, according to academics and lawyers.

LNP lobbyist Simone Holzapfel, Fadden MP Stuart Robert and Gold Coast City councillor Kristyn Boulton will be among the first witnesses when the hearings begin at the Crime and Corruption Commission's offices in Brisbane.

A live-stream of the hearing is expected to start at 10am as Electoral Commissioner Walter van der Merwe, as the first witness, appears before CCC chairman Alan MacSporran QC and faces questions from its officers.

"The major technical purpose of a public hearing for the CCC is to ventilate the issue," Adjunct Professor Stephen Stockwell from Griffith University.

"People can see the issues are available for discussion."

Professor Stockwell said the hearings would help gather more evidence because "people don't feel it is a taboo topic that's going to get them into trouble".

Queensland Law Society president Christine Smyth agreed, adding the public could attend the hearings opening up debate which until now was limited because the inquiry had involved private interviews between detectives and candidates.

The hearings differ from court proceedings because the CCC chairman was not a judge and a CCC officer, while being able to ask questions, could not act as a prosecutor, she said.

But for witnesses there are important similar rules related to giving evidence.

"You are required to answer all the questions," Ms Smyth said. 

"People called to give evidence must answer questions truthfully.

"If you don't then they will be subject to significant penalties for refusing to do so. You can be sentenced to prison for six months."

At the end of the hearings or the inquiry, the Commissioner is open to make several recommendations including that charges being pursued against a witness.

State Parliament may also be advised to change and toughen laws on how "the source of political funding or political allegiances" are disclosed during a local government poll.

The CCC investigation codenamed Belcarra was launched after the Gold Coast Bulletin published more than 60 reports under a "Trojan Council" banner, exposing a block during the independent elections.

Mr Robert following the March 19 election last year confirmed his powerful LNP fundraising arm called the Fadden Forum had provided $30,000 each to candidates Councillor Boulton and Felicity Stevenson.

The inquiry by exploring political allegiances and funding can show how information is "relayed in real time" to voters.'

Candidates running in a local government poll are required by law to inform the Electoral Commission of Queensland when campaigning as a group.

Mr Robert, Cr Boulton and Ms Stevenson have all denied any wrongdoing.

While some councillors received legal support after allegations surfaced during evidence at earlier hearings, the Gold Coast City Council is not providing legal support for current city representatives.

A council spokesman said it was important to understand that the "terms of reference is about candidates in an election process, not councillors exercising their role".

News Corp Australia


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