One of Queensland’s longest serving mayors says he was unaware property developers bankrolled half his election campaign through a trust until a recent corruption investigation.
Allan Sutherland was re-elected to the Moreton Bay Regional Council in March 2016 on the back of large contributions from the Moreton Futures Trust.
A Crime and Corruption Commission investigation has heard this week that the trust received donations from several property developers to the tune of $137,000.
Mr Sutherland told the commission on Friday he knew the trust was paying for his campaign’s expenses but it was his wife Gayle who dealt directly with accountant and trustee Kirby Leeke.
“I’d be happy not to be involved in the money in any way, shape or form,” Mr Sutherland said.
He said he did not know property developers had made large contributions to the trust until recently when investigators first approached him.
The commission was told Mr Sutherland was suffering from serious health issues about the time of the election and did not check the trust’s disclosure form, which is publicly available on the state’s Electoral Commission website.
“It was probably the last thing on my mind,” he said.
The mayor’s own disclosure form shows he received more than $118,00 from the trust and does not list the individual developers.
Mr Sutherland said he understood the public’s suspicion of donations, particularly from developers, but stated he thought he was doing the right thing because it seemed “cleaner” if the trust paid his campaign bills.
“I was happy not to know – it’s hard to have a conflict when you don’t know who the donor is,” he said.
“I thought I was doing the right thing, I’ve made every attempt to do the right thing.”
Mr Sutherland also brushed off suggestions he and five other councillors had worked together as a group, despite promoting themselves as independent candidates.
The commission heard Mr Sutherland approached candidates and offered to pay for campaign material featuring them together such as billboards and how-to-vote cards.
He also wrote letters of endorsement for three candidates that were mailed to constituents.
One of the candidates, councillor Peter Flannery, said the total $3677 cost of his promotional material was paid for by the Moreton Futures Trust but did not believe he or the mayor had done anything wrong.
“I think it’s all legal and above board,” Mr Flannery told reporters.
All the joint how-to-vote cards featuring the mayor and a candidate were almost identical in style and layout and shared the slogan “for a bright future”.
Mr Sutherland said he did not think the candidates and himself had run as a group because they shared no common policies, election platform and had no leader.
He also emphasised that payment was made on the condition the candidate would declare the contribution.
Candidates are allowed to run as a group if they formally register with the Electoral Commission.
The CCC hearing, which is investigating funding and disclosure allegations from Queensland’s 2016 council elections, will resume on Wednesday.