Mayor under fire over Inland Rail intervention
TOOWOOMBA Mayor Paul Antonio is fighting a misconduct allegation over his dealings with the Inland Rail project.
The allegation has been referred to the Department of Local Government's Regional Conduct Review Panel.
The Chronicle can reveal a complaint of corrupt conduct was first made against Cr Antonio on September 24 last year.
It followed an interview with the ABC in which the Toowoomba mayor admitted he paid for the design of an alternative Inland Rail route that ran along the border of his Captains Mountain quarry, and gave copies of the route to Groom MP Dr John McVeigh and Queensland Resources Council CEO Ian Macfarlane.
The Crime and Corruption Commission did a preliminary assessment of the complaint, which alleged Cr Antonio had "used his position to influence an outcome so as to obtain a personal benefit" and found there to be "insufficient evidence to raise suspicion" of corrupt conduct.
A CCC spokesman confirmed the watchdog had referred the matter to the Department of Local Government, Racing and Multicultural Affairs.
Cr Antonio said he was aware of the complaint and was yet to be summoned before the panel.
He said he was "absolutely" defending himself against the allegation of misconduct.
In the interview that gave rise to the complaint, Cr Antonio, who owns a quarry in Captains Mountain near Millmerran, said he paid $4900 to have engineers investigate an alternative route for the Inland Rail line that ran adjacent to his land.
Basalt from the quarry could be used to supply ballast for the railway line as it crosses the Condamine flood plain.
At the time, Cr Antonio said profits from the quarry did not depend on the route running near his property, arguing that regardless of where the rail line went, the basalt on his hill and others in the area would be used.
After first telling the ABC he gave the map to Millmerran farmer Russell Stevens, he relented under questioning and admitted he gave it to Groom MP Dr John McVeigh and former Federal Minister for Industry Ian Macfarlane.
The day after the interview aired, Cr Antonio reiterated to The Chronicle he acted out of concern for established farming families.
"Yes, I paid for it, and I did so because of the highly productive farming land that's important for the local economy."
A spokesperson for the Department of Local Government, Racing and Multicultural affairs said the department "does not comment on matters that may or may not be under investigation".
A serious rift emerged between Cr Bill Cahill and Cr Antonio in the wake of the latter's interview with the ABC, according to emails obtained by The Chronicle through the Right to Information Act.
The emails show that two days after the interview went to air, Cr Antonio requested a meeting with councillors for Monday, September 25, 2017.
Council CEO Brian Pidgeon said the meeting was "to discuss the background and implications relating to this matter".
Cr Cahill followed up with an email on Sunday, September 24, expressing his concerns about the mayor's involvement in the meeting.
"I wish to state again my objection to the mayor's involvement in this meeting. Particularly given his public admission in a national interview about his secretive dealings with the matter," Cr Cahill said.
"I will say again as I have said to the deputy mayor that when there are allegations involving the mayor I believe you as the CEO, according to the Local Government Act, should be calling the meeting."
Cr Cahill said he contacted his fellow councillors the previous day to discuss the issue, and that he and three other councillors wished to discuss "the implications to council and what we can do to try and protect council's reputation".
In response to Cr Cahill's email, Mr Pidgeon later that day said he was aware or his obligations under the Local Government Act and that he had "no obligation under the Local Government Act to call a meeting with councillors to discuss actions taken by the mayor".
Mr Pidgeon said he had advised the mayor some councillors were seeking a meeting on the matter and the mayor had agreed to meet.
"The mayor has expressed a desire to state his position in relation to this matter. He is free to take an alternate position and say nothing more to councillors. The mayor and councillors have no obligation to ask or answer any questions," Mr Pidgeon said.
"I also am happy to participate in a separate meeting specifically on managing council's reputation if that is councillors' desire.
"If, at any time, I receive a complaint or form an opinion that I have an obligation to make a complaint to the Director General based on any information I know now or in the future I will fully exercise my responsibilities under the Local Government Act."
That prompted another reply from Cr Cahill on the Monday morning, who said he was concerned Mr Pidgeon's view was that the matter did not require external investigation.
By the time Cr Cahill's email landed in Mr Pidgeon's inbox, a member of the public had already made a complaint to the council, which Mr Pidgeon confidentially forwarded to the CCC for assessment on the Monday.
Cr Cahill argued not referring the matter for external investigation set a new, lower standard of integrity for councillors.
"The new standard, as clearly evidenced by what I believe was an extremely damaging national interview given by the mayor, is that Toowoomba Regional Councillors are only required to tell the truth on matters of interest to the public if the person asking the questions is able to provide evidence that is contrary to the initial 'truth' that has been told by the councillor.
"If this is the case, and it certainly appears that it is, the ratepayers need to be made fully aware that under this new standard, honesty in reporting is completely subject to what other facts to the contrary may be known by the questioner."
Mr Pidgeon replied to Cr Cahill's email three days later, on September 28.
"In your email below you are making your own assumptions and drawing your own conclusions on this matter and on how future potential complaints involving councillors will be dealt with," he wrote.
"As I have previously stated, I am fully aware of my obligations. I have no obligation to disclose to any councillor whether I have received a complaint/s or my decisions or proposed actions now or at any point in time in relation to a complaint about another councillor."