CASEY councillor Geoff Ablett has slammed the “faceless people” who he claimed tried to derail his state election campaign after he was officially cleared this week of misconduct over allegedly corrupt Liberal Party donations.
Cr Ablett and fellow Casey councillor Amanda Stapledon were cleared on Wednesday when the Victorian Ombudsman released her report, finding the allegations could not be substantiated.
But Ombudsman Deborah Glass has still urged tighter restrictions on political donations, warning that otherwise “a perception that politicians can be bought” could continue.
Crs Ablett and Stapledon – who stood as Liberal candidates in last year’s state election – always denied wrong-doing after being interviewed as part of the state Ombudsman’s probe into donations and council planning decisions, which was first reported in The Australian last November.
Key allegations included that the councillors accepted donations from property developers in return for favourable council planning decisions.
Cr Ablett told Star News that Ms Glass’s findings were a “great, just outcome” for an “innocent person”.
“Right over the 12 months I knew I hadn’t done anything wrong,” he said.
“It’s disappointing to have faceless people do that to you.
“It was quite a shock to me and it did have an effect on me and my family.
“You think what types of people are doing this?”
Cr Ablett said the allegations had been detrimental to his election campaign, claiming there was “a political agenda” to “destroy my reputation”.
Ahead of the election Cr Ablett only needed a 1.1 per cent swing to win the Cranbourne seat from Labor MP Jude Perera, but suffered a small swing against him.
“I’m extremely disappointed that it affected the perception of me four weeks out from the election,” he said.
“It was well orchestrated to character assassinate me so people wouldn’t vote for me.”
The Ombudsman’s findings also discuss allegations made against fellow Casey councillors Sam Aziz, now mayor, and Damian Rosario, who both did not run in the state election.
Ms Glass recommended restrictions be put in place on donations made to candidates and political parties by property developers while also recommending that all donations to a candidate or political party should be required to be published on a publicly available register within 30 days of the relevant election.
“There can be little doubt that the lack of transparency in political donations and the lack of limitations on who can make those donations in Victoria creates an environment in which allegations of improper conduct can flourish,” she said.
“Whether they are substantiated or not, whether such allegations are legitimately made or are made for political mischief-making as is often claimed, is not the point.
“Ultimately, they create a perception that politicians can be bought, which reduces public trust in government.”
Cr Stapledon declined to comment at this time.
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