Chris Loft and son Jason Loft leaving the Hervey Bay Court house.
Chris Loft and son Jason Loft leaving the Hervey Bay Court house.

LOFT TRIAL: 'People were paid to shut up'

CHRIS Loft told the corruption watchdog 40 whistleblowers were willing to speak out about how bad things allegedly were within council ranks by the time things came to a head.

This explosive claim, along with many others, was heard via a video, played to the jury, of an interview the former Fraser Coast mayor gave to the Crime and Corruption Commission in 2017.

The video was placed on the court record during the cross-examination of Sergeant Troy Newman, a detective who worked for CCC and was part of the investigation which ended in Mr Loft being charged with misconduct.

In it, Mr Loft is recorded saying he was alarmed by "how many things I sensed were wrong" since becoming a councillor in 2012.

He claimed intimidation of staff from 2012 to 2016 was a problem as was "huge" staff turnover. He also cited an independent report which referred to a toxic bullying culture within the council.

"We had a CEO that never took holidays, a CEO that challenged the authenticity of the Deloitte auditor, CEO that was taking delegated authorities in regard to procurement policy, she was approving development applications," he said.

"Talented staff were being pushed out of the organisation and there was significant lot of people who were paid out to shut up which has now all eventuated and that is why there are other parts of the CCC which are hopefully enquiring into the mix of those. I could rattle off a lot more that was incorrect.

"Staff is the greatest asset of any business and our staff had a 23 per cent job satisfaction."

Mr Loft referenced a report by the Department of Local Government Deputy Director General Stephen Johnston, who Mr Loft claimed, came into council "when the government realised the mayor and the CEO were not getting on".

"By the Friday at 4.55pm he (Mr Johnston) came to my office and said 'I don't know how you put up with her for three months'," Mr Loft said.

Mr Loft alleged Ms Desmond changed a letter sent by Mr Johnston to staff encouraging them to meet with him.

Mr Loft said this meant no staff came forward until Mr Johnston sent another letter to staff to meet off-site.

"Staff started to meet him in coffee shops and park benches," Mr Loft said.

"He interviewed about 30 staff and he said it was the same story."

Mr Loft claimed the report Mr Johnston helped write was 'damning of the culture' within council in 2016.

Mr Loft said an independent organisational review finished at the end of January in 2017, which included an anonymous survey.

Mr Loft claimed the reviewer said "this is the worst business I have ever seen" and noted that 200 staff had taken the time to express their concerns in the survey.

"So that is the toxic culture which has been established over time with this CEO," Mr Loft said.

"In the meantime in December we had three staff on suicide watch, which is why councillor Rolf Light wrote to Work Place Health and Safety, saying this is an unsafe environment."

Mr Loft said when an WPHS inspector came, he knew of 40 whistle blowers who would talk about the situation of which eight were interviewed.

Mr Loft said he was present while the inspector spoke to a suicidal staff member at Christmas time.

"His words (the inspector) were 'I won't need to interview 40'," he said.

"His words, not mine, was 'she should go to jail'. "That was the pain I lived in."

The trial continues.