Controversial Melbourne councillor and Planning czar Ken Ong – a member of the Liberal party aligned to the Baillieu faction – could be sacked from the council if – as expected – he’s re-elected in counting that will occur at the end of this week.
The Age reports the councillor was offered a bribe by a developer and stayed silent about it for two years, failing to report the crime to Victoria Police.
Prolific Liberal fundraiser Jason Yeap, former Senator Tsbin Tchen and one-time VEXNEWS/OC favourite Gladys Liu are all now considered part of the Baillieu faction circle of influence around the council and Chinese business community. We suspect that’s more like their boastful characterisation than any real genuine desire of the Premier to dabble in the goings-on at Melbourne Town Hall. Mostly the government has been happy with Doyle.
BITTER & TWISTED
The most important thing to know about Ong’s internal Melbourne council dealings is that he was desperate to be on Lord Mayor Robert Doyle’s Team Doyle council ticket but was rejected by the former Liberal leader in favour of John So’s well-regarded former chief-of-staff Kevin Louey. Since then Ong has been on a crusade of vengeance and reprisal, making many allegations about Doyle and his group. The Age has lapped it all up, of course, mostly oblivious to the sneaky chicanery involved in Ong’s claims.
The childcare centre entrepreneur Ken Ong’s stunning confession on the weekend to Fairfax scribes that he’d been offered a bribe – by a developer he’s not willing to name – back in 2010 and that he failed to bring the matter to the attention of Victoria Police, the council CEO and other proper authorities has prompted the Lord Mayor Robert Doyle to question whether Ong is “fit for office.” It’s a fair point given his legal and ethical obligations to report the crime.
Doyle’s judgment in not accepting Ong as part of his councillor ticket has certainly been vindicated.
IT’S THE COVER-UP THAT KILLS YOU
The councillor appears to have covered-up a serious crime. An offer of a bribe to a public official is certainly enough to constitute a crime in Victoria, legal experts tell VEXNEWS. It doesn’t actually have to be paid. The Victorian Public Sector Standards Commissioner’s “minimum requirements and accountabilities” in the public sector are clear enough:
Refuse bribes and report bribery attempts to the head of the public sector organisation or their delegate and to Victoria Police.
By his own admission Ong has failed to do this:
Councillor Ken Ong, who is warning of a “subculture” of corruption taking root in Melbourne, told The Sunday Age a developer offered him a big discount on an apartment in exchange for planning help on projects. Cr Ong refused…
Cr Ong, who is seeking re-election to the city council, described the apartment discount offer, made in 2010, as “naive” but said such naivety was common. He declined to name the developer. He told the developer he could only explain the planning process, as he did for others who asked for his help.
SILENCE DAMNS ONG
In interviews on the ABC this morning, Ong refused to disclose which corrupt developer offered him the bribe of a discounted apartment.
It’s oddly fitting that the council candidate behind weeks of muck-raking against foes has now unwittingly exposed his own wrongdoing over bribery that could lead to his sacking from the council…
This is clearly not a sustainable position, especially given his clear public sector duty and the rumours circulating about whether Ong has accepted a campaign donation from that same foreign developer who was once involved in a large residential development in the CBD near Flagstaff Gardens before selling it to another foreign group. Ong has landed himself in an unholy mess.
There is also talk of an accountant with whom Ong maintains close relations. The accountant represents many Chinese developers and in that capacity has extensive liaisons with the City of Melbourne planning process on their behalf. Some think the accountant has shared financial love with Councillor Ong’s re-election campaign account. How very friendly of him. We make no suggestion of wrongdoing in relation to any of this but these entanglements do prove the point that Ong is keeping stony silent about many of his back-room manoeuvrings while pretending to be an open-book. He is a complex man, a scandal waiting to explode, many suspect.
Ong might well have thought he was safe given the election is nearly over and that he’d shrewdly positioned himself as #1 candidate on the well-funded Singer-So ticket, which came from nowhere to emerge as the most serious challenger to the strongly performing Lord Mayor Robert Doyle.
The councillor is widely thought to have been behind multiple Fairfax stories that smeared Doyle and some of his team on the issue of developer donations to their campaign. Ong appears to be judging council colleagues and rivals by his own low standards of probity, at least if we take his word for it.
As we noted earlier, it all seems to be motivated by revenge about not being given a spring-time rails-run back on the council by Doyle. Others say he was attempting to inoculate himself against claims of wrongdoing about his own decisions and actions as Planning Chair, especially in relation to a prominent Southbank development that has been very controversial with local residents.
The truth is that corruption in planning on local councils in Victoria is very rare, despite The Age/BC’s presumption otherwise. It now seems Ong danced with the Fairfax devil and could end up in boned-councillor Hell. It seems oddly fitting that the council candidate behind weeks of muck-raking against foes has now exposed himself as failing in his duty to fight corruption and bribery in the planning process.
The Minister for Local Government will undoubtedly receive a briefing on Councillor Ong’s conduct should he be re-elected. At the very least an investigation into Ong’s corruption cover-up incident should occur and unless he can provide a credible and reasonable explanation as to why he stayed silent, she will have little choice but to exercise her power to sack him and to refer the details of the incident to Victoria Police.