Warrnambool City Councillors want probe, despite Wilma-gate all clear

TWO Warrnambool City councillors and a former councillor are set to ask a new anti-corruption body to launch at least three investigations into the council.

Councillors Peter Hulin and Peter Sycopoulis and ex-councillor Jennifer Lowe have compiled a submission for the Independent Broad-based Anti-corruption Commission (IBAC), which is still being established by the Baillieu government. It will seek investigations into “Wilma-gate”, as well as the Allansford industrial land issue and allegations surrounding the saleyards.

Mrs Lowe said they were also asking for other investigations into particular “financial and business transactions” included in the submission to IBAC, but added she couldn’t discuss them as they were confidential.

These relate to fellow councillors they allege who have failed to disclose conflicts of interest, but Mrs Lowe and Cr Hulin would not state which councillors or how many.

Cr Hulin said the main allegations regarding Wilma-gate, the Allansford industrial land and the saleyards relate to the conduct of council’s chief executive officer Bruce Anson.

Mr Anson was cleared of wrongdoing in the Wilma-gate saga by the state government’s inspectorate, which found that a pseudonymous letter disparaging Cr Hulin, Cr Sycopoulis and Mrs Lowe which was written by Mr Anson’s son, Jacob, and published in The Standard did not breach the Local Government Act.

“The investigation did not identify a prosecutable breach of the act, regardless of the author’s identity, and on that basis could find no justification to commit further public resources on this matter,” a spokeswoman for the inspectorate told The Standard.

Jacob Anson also recently took to Facebook in response to more articles about Wilma-gate to reiterate that he was solely responsible for the letters to the editor written under the name of Wilma Wright.

“I made it pretty clear to the Warrnambool Standard and the inspectorate that I’m solely responsible for the letters penned over the last few years, and that I stand by my comments,” he wrote.

But Cr Hulin, Cr Sycopoulis and Mrs Lowe said they want to be certain and that a proper investigation could help clear up any allegations that Bruce Anson was involved. Mr Anson said two of the matters the trio want investigated — Wilma-gate and the Allansford industrial land — had “already been before the appropriate authorities and they’ve done their investigations and no wrong-doing has been found”.

The investigation into the Allansford industrial land resulted in Cr Hulin receiving a suspension from the council.

Cr Hulin, Cr Sycopoulis and Mrs Lowe want a more thorough investigation into Wilma-gate as they claim to have forensic computer evidence that suggests the Wilma-gate letter originated in Warrnambool, was forwarded to someone in Queensland, was re-edited there and then sent to The Standard.

“The email was sent from a Warrnambool address,” Mrs Lowe said.

“We’re not saying who (sent it), but it came from a computer within a three-kilometre radius of the Warrnambool CBD. (The Wilma-gate letter) was created in Warrnambool.”

Jacob Anson was living in Queensland at the time of the incident and Bruce Anson has continually denied any involvement in the letter. Mrs Lowe said the evidence was obtained by “someone who knows how to track emails” and that it should be easy for the IBAC to look into.

Cr Hulin said investigations into Wilma-gate, the Allansford industrial land saga, and the livestock exchange were needed to ensure the council could operate properly.

He said that if such investigations took place and all parties were cleared of wrong-doing, he would accept the decision. “I will be celebrating the fact,” he said. 

“But at the moment it’s almost intolerable to run a council if we don’t have complete trust in our CEO.”

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