Queensland’s corruption watchdog has released a report into the Gold Coast City Council (GCCC) that details how Mayor Tom Tate used council funds to buy items, including luggage, selfie sticks and a membership to the Gold Coast Titans.
- The report exposes how the Mayor used taxpayer money to purchase items using a staff member’s corporate charge card
- Despite the findings no criminal charges have resulted from Operation Yabber
- The Local Government Association of Qld welcomed the CCC’s findings of no criminality
The Crime and Corruption Commission’s (CCC) 84-page report also found Cr Tate misused his power to protect his chief of staff from disciplinary action and may have committed misconduct by using ratepayer funds to donate tens of thousands of dollars to charity.
He was referred to the Office of the Independent Assessor for the later, where he may face possible disciplinary action.
The report, from the year-long “Operation Yabber” investigation, was tabled in Parliament today.
It exposes how the popular mayor used taxpayer money to purchase items using a staff member’s corporate charge card.
Other questionable items of expenditure included;
- membership to the Gold Coast Titans
- $500 headphones
- watch batteries
- home media equipment
- a full business internet service
- two selfie sticks — one for the office of the mayor and one for his daughter
Cr Tate’s spending was analysed by investigators, who found he used council funds for making donations up to 10 times the amount permitted under policy.
Investigation into ‘misconduct’ still ongoing
Despite the findings, no criminal charges have resulted from Operation Yabber but some issues have been referred to the Office of the Independent Assessor.
It is investigating any alleged misconduct and conflict of interest, including:
- Alleged donations made by Cr Tate exceeded policy limits
- Alleged interference in a council disciplinary process relating to the failure of his chief of staff to comply with register of interest requirements
The assessor’s investigations are expected to take months to finalise.
Cr Tate’s alleged failure to record his interest in the racehorse “Go Gold Coast” has already been assessed and referred to the Councillor Conduct Tribunal, which will determine whether there was misconduct over that matter too.
‘Haters gonna hate, hate, hate’
Cr Tate described the report as a “fantastic outcome”, going as far as calling it “Operation Yabber Dabba Doo”.
“There’s no systematic corruption that was found,” he said.
“The report is nice and detailed. For me, it’s an A+.
“I don’t see a drama.
“I didn’t buy a house next to the [Cross] River Rail, it’s a selfie stick.”
Cr Tate said he had been referred to the assessors 60 times previously, and all allegations had been dismissed.
He explained that the media equipment — a selfie stick and gyro stick — was bought for when they were overseas doing media.
He said he picked one up for his daughter at the same time because it would “save me time” and she’s “in the film industry”.
“‘Get it and I’ll pay it back’, which I did very shortly after,” he said.
Cr Tate said he was not concerned about whether the report will cost him votes at the next election.
“What did Taylor Swift say? ‘Haters gonna hate, hate, hate’,” he said.
“Well mate, last election I got 73 per cent, the other 27 per cent, well I hope they rethink and tune into Taylor and go ‘Well Tom’s alright’.”
No criminal charges laid
The report also found Councillor Tate’s Chief of Staff Wayne Moran failed to declare and properly manage his conflicts of interest.
The corruption watchdog revealed Cr Tate tried to protect Mr Moran from disciplinary action initiated by the CEO.
The CCC said Council CEO Dale Dickson told investigators Mr Moran directly involved himself in development issues at council.
“Evidence was uncovered during interviews with council staff that Moran, as the Mayor’s Chief of Staff, would often contact GCCC department areas wanting to know about developments or he would arrange meetings with the developer’s consultant, himself and a GCCC planner to work issues out,” the report stated.
“The CEO advised there were a lot of issues about the Chief of Staff’s conduct in this regard that were brought to him by senior council officers.”
When Mr Moran refused to declare a conflict of interest, Mr Dickson issued him with a show cause letter.
Cr Tate, however, citing legal advice that Mr Moran had obtained, directed no further action should be taken against his Chief of Staff.
The letter read: “I have reviewed the legal opinion obtained by my Chief of Staff on his situation and am satisfied by its content. I therefore, direct that you accept the response from Mr Moran and that no further action be taken in regards to your ‘show cause’ on Mr Moran, bringing this matter to a close.”
The CCC said there was no evidence the mayor was aware of Mr Moran’s interference in council business but that it considers Cr Tate misused his powers to protect Mr Moran from disciplinary action.
Mr Moran, who declined an ABC request for an interview, has been suspended on full pay since November pending an investigation by the council.
At the time, Cr Tate was directed by Mr Dickson to cease all communication with Mr Moran.
The Local Government Association of Queensland (LGAQ) welcomed the CCC’s findings of no criminality.
LGAQ CEO Greg Hallam said it was now time to move the agenda on.
“We need to find a balance between continual investigation and review and enabling councils to get on with the job they were given to do by mandate of their communities,” he said.
The CCC has recommended the Local Government Act be amended to make clear that mayors and councillors are responsible for the actions of their staff and set out protocols to ensure transparent communication between staff and local government officers.