Warrnambool council probes leak to media

INVESTIGATIONS will be launched to determine who leaked a confidential Warrnambool City Council document to The Age, which is delving into Premier Denis Napthine’s involvement with planned expansions for Midfield Meat.

"Major concerns": Warrnambool City Council chief executive officer Bruce Anson.

"Major concerns": Warrnambool City Council chief executive officer Bruce Anson.

City chief executive Bruce Anson told The Standard yesterday steps would be taken to find the source of the breach of confidentiality.

“We have to get evidence, we will be following up on the breach,” Mr Anson said.

“It is extremely difficult for council to consider all the thoughts and options before making decisions if those reports are going to be leaked.

“There are major concerns about business details being divulged to the public.

“It is making it increasingly difficult for developers and businessmen to deal openly with council.

“The proposed legislative amendment before Parliament is that it will be considered a breach of the act not a council conduct matter and there will be penalties prescribed in the act.”

The report leaked to The Age was tabled at a closed council committee meeting on February 10 where councillors voted to support an agreement with Midfield on purchase and transfer of Crown land to be used for a proposed Midfield dairy processing factory.

A paragraph in that report read “...the proposed Midfield expansion is a regionally significant project, but also of state significance given the Premier’s direct involvement”. 

Mr Anson yesterday explained the context of that comment and conceded it “could have been worded better”.

“What it was intended to convey was that we knew Colin McKenna of Midfield had met the Premier to discuss this proposed development,” he said.

“There was no inference the Premier was pushing it or that the council was seeking favours.”

Dr Napthine has defended his meeting with Mr McKenna late last year saying it was to advise the Midfield boss how to apply for government department assistance. 

One of the options canvassed in the leaked report was that the normal planning rezoning process be fast-tracked directly to the government.

“Under the normal process council would decide on a planning permit and rezoning application, but in this case where council would be buying and selling the land we believed there was a conflict of interest,” Mr Anson explained yesterday.

“So we decided to ask the Planning Minister to do the rezoning and planning permit.”

The council has advertised its intention to buy a hectare of Crown land on Scott Street from the government to facilitate the Midfield project and then on-sell it to the company, subject to state approval.

A similar land transfer was given in-principle support from the then Bracks government in 2008, but was shelved because Midfield could not guarantee when it would purchase the land which forms part of the council depot.

“We weren’t going to acquire the site without agreement from Midfield they would buy it from us,” Mr Anson said. 

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