Probed lobby group to quit
14 January 2006
By Amanda Banks, The Weekend Australian
A retail lobby group at the heart of an investigation by Western Australia's corruption watchdog is moving to wind itself up.
The Corruption and crime Commission is understood to be investigating payments made by the Independent Action Group to candidates in an election for the southwest shire of Busselton.
Two of the councillors who received the payments recently revealed there may be a link or a "perception" of a link between the IAG and the developers of a controversial $330 million Smiths Beach resort near the tourist town.
The IAG, which was set up to fight the deregulation of trading hours in Western Australia, donated more than $15,000 to four candidates who declared the gifts on a formal council register.
The donations - of between $1000 and $7500 - were made in the lead up to council elections in May last year, three months after the issue of trading hours was resolved by a referendum held in conjunction with the February state election.
Former Labor premier Brian Burke and retired senior minister Julian Grill ran the "no" campaign in the trading hours debate. The prominent lobbyists are also understood to work for the company Canal Rocks, which has fought strong community opposition for more than five years in its ongoing bid to get approval for the Smiths Beach development.
An investigation by The Weekend Australian over several months has revealed two successful candidates in the council election - Anne Ryan and John Triplett - and two unsuccessful nominees - Wayne Lupton and Hamish Burton - declared donations from the IAG.
Copies of virtually identical letters sent to Busselton constituents in mass mailouts on behalf of four candidates - Mr Triplett, Mr Lupton, Fraser Smith, and Adrian Gutteridge - reveal an orchestrated campaign in the run-up to the May poll.
The letters were printed by Perth based firm Lasermail, whose management director Michael Broughton has been interviewed by the CCC. It is understood at least some of the signatories to the four letters have also been interviewed.
Ms Ryan yesterday denied any knowledge of a link between the IAG and the Smiths Beach developers, saying she had been a long-term campaigner against deregulated trading hours and was confident there was nothing sinister in the donation she received from the IAG. She admitted that Mr Burke, who has declined to comment, was one of the many high profile people she had received advice from during her election campaign.
Mr Triplett, approached by the IAG with the offer of money for a mailout in the last weeks of the campaign, yesterday said he could not comment on matters relating to the donation.
Minutes of a council meeting last month reveal Mr Triplett and Ms Ryan declared an interest affecting impartiality.
IAG convener Greg Dean could not be contacted yesterday and has previously refused to comment.
But a notice of a special general meeting to be held next month reveals a resolution will be moved to wind up the group and give any remaining funding to the not-for-profit WA Retail and Small Business Association.
Canal Rocks Chairman David McKenzie also declined to comment.
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