Gold Coast Mayor Tom Tate talking to the media. Picture: Jerad Williams
Gold Coast Mayor Tom Tate talking to the media. Picture: Jerad Williams

New CCC allegations into Gold Coast Mayor Tom Tate

MAYOR Tom Tate failed to declare a conflict of interest into the building of a super tower in Surfers Paradise, four months after receiving accommodation and a return flight to China from the company's Australian representative.

In fresh claims, Cr Tate on February 13 voted on and backed a change of plans for Forise Holdings' Spirit project, an 88-level $1.3 billion development on the old Iluka site.

The Mayor recorded the China trip from Hickey Management, Australian representatives for Forise, on his Register of Interests last October.

The trip, taken in August 2017, is one of multiple probes by the Crime and Corruption Commission into the conduct of council.

Mayor Tom Tate. Picture Glenn Hampson
Mayor Tom Tate. Picture Glenn Hampson

The State watchdog is looking into the filling in of Black Swan Lake, the sale of Bruce Bishop car park, the racehorse ownership of Cr Tate and Deputy Mayor Donna Gates, and allegations the Mayor engineered council decisions to secure personal gain.

The Bulletin yesterday asked the Mayor several questions - why did he not declare a real or perceived conflict of interest, what was the purpose of the China trip and how much did it cost?

The CCC is looking at fresh claims regarding Cr Tate. Picture: Jerad Williams .
The CCC is looking at fresh claims regarding Cr Tate. Picture: Jerad Williams .

In a one-line statement, he replied: "This matter will be discussed with the CCC if, and when, that interview may occur.''

Forise had sought a change of plans whereby a substation on its Trickett Street site would be moved to a nearby park on a permanent basis.

Deputy Mayor Donna Gates and councillors William Owen-Jones and Gary Baildon made declarations, but the Mayor remained silent before voting for the changes.

Cr Tate was first alerted about the involvement of Forise's Australian representatives in September 2016 when councillors approved the Spirit development.

After being questioned by the Mayor about his declaration, Cr Owen-Jones said Mark Lacy was a director at the firm Hickey Lawyers and contributed $900 to his election campaign.

Photo of Mayor Tom Tate. Photo by Richard Gosling
Photo of Mayor Tom Tate. Photo by Richard Gosling

The CCC is investigating six main allegations from the Save Surfers Paradise group against Cr Tate, including his failure to record the China trip on his register within the time limit and in the correct fashion.

The Bulletin has obtained a separate complaint about the China trip from another complainant. CCC summarised their concerns as the Mayor having "deliberately completed his Register of Interests incorrectly to hide information about the purpose of travelling to Beijing".

The CCC considered it was appropriate for the Local Government Department, at first instance, to investigate the matter.

Gold Coast Mayor Tom Tate. Picture: Jerad Williams
Gold Coast Mayor Tom Tate. Picture: Jerad Williams

"We have also decided to review the investigation as the alleged corrupt conduct is of a serious or systemic nature and we consider it is in the public interest that the CCC monitors how the matter is dealt with," a senior corruption officer wrote.

The allegations focus on Cr Tate failing to list the China trip under "sponsored hospitality purpose", in which he must explain the purpose of the visit, and his failure to declare an interest at the February 13 meeting.

Instead, he declared the trip as a "gift over $500", a category which does not require details about the purpose of the trip.

"And in this case it is clear Cr Tate has voted and continues to vote without declaring any interest in matters pertaining to Forise," the complainant wrote. "The lack of action is clearly contributing to a demise in public confidence in the ethical and transparent leadership of our city."

 

QUESTIONS THE BULLETIN ASKED MAYOR TOM TATE:

Why did the Mayor not declare a real (or perceived) conflict of interest when full council, on February 13, voted on a change of approval for the Forise project given a representative for the company had previously paid for your flights and accommodation to China?

Do you believe your current Register of Interests is correct in relation to hospitality received for the trip to China paid for by Hickey Management?

Why have you not updated your Register of Interest to record details of your China trip under the section titled "sponsored hospitality benefit"?

What was the purpose of the trip to China in August last year?

How many other sponsored trips have you accepted since taking office?

Have you received the invoice for the China trip? How much did the flights and accommodation cost?

Did you, at any stage, during the China trip talk to potential buyers and investors of units at the Forise project and talk about the benefits of the development?

During the August trip to China, and on any others, have you discussed with potential investors the planned sale of the Bruce Bishop car park? If so, was the outcome of these talks?

THE MAYOR'S RESPONSE:

"This matter will be discussed with the CCC if, and when, that interview may occur.''

CR TATE'S TRIP AND FALLOUT

August 2017: Mayor Tom Tate takes a trip to China.

Early October 2017: The Mayor updates his Register of Interest to list return flight and accommodation as a gift from Hickey Management, the Australian representative for Forise which is building Surfers Paradise super tower Spirit.

Early November 2017: Community groups call for an investigation into the hospitality arrangements. Save Surfers Paradise says councillors must update their register within 30 days.

November 10, 2017: The Bulletin asks Cr Tate the purpose of the trip and what Hickey Management paid for. "No comment," he replies.

November 15, 2017: At a media conference, Cr Tate says he delayed declaring a private company paid for the trip because he did not receive an invoice. He was not sure if it was Hickey Management or developer Forise which sponsored the China visit.

Late November 2017: The CCC is receiving complaints, among them allegations Cr Tate failed to record the interest within the time required under the Local Government Act. He is also accused of not declaring it in the right section. Under "gifts over $500" he has noted Hickey Management and "Return flight and accommodation to China". But the complainants argue it should be listed under "Sponsored Hospitality Benefits" where he must explain "the purpose of the benefit received".

February 13, 2018: Council receives a request to change an existing approval for Spirit. Three councillors declare a real (or perceived) conflict of interest. Cr Tate does not make a declaration and votes. The decision is carried unanimously by full council.

March 9, 2018: The Bulletin reveals the State's corruption watchdog is investigating six matters relating to the Mayor including failure to update his Register of Interests within the statutory time frame after receiving hospitality benefits from the China trip.

Today: Bulletin reports correspondence to the CCC continues, alleging the Mayor's Register is "inaccurate and incomplete", that he continues to vote without declaring any interest on matters relating to Forise. The behaviour, it is alleged, erodes public confidence in the "ethical and transparent leadership of our city". Cr Tate declines to comment.