A NSW parliamentary inquiry has called for a review of councillors’ expenses after it was revealed Canterbury-Bankstown mayor Khal Asfour spent thousands of ratepayers’ dollars on designer suits and spa treatments.
The government-led inquiry into Canterbury-Bankstown Council, which tabled its report late on Monday, also found that there were “issues concerning the relationships between councillors and property developers” in the city’s south-west.
That relationship “may have influenced planning instruments and the positioning of infrastructure across the council area,” the report says.
The inquiry was sparked after Tania Mihailuk, then a Labor MP for Bankstown, questioned Asfour’s suitability to run as an ALP candidate in the upper house.
She used parliamentary privilege to accuse him of furthering the interest of developers and “identities”, including corrupt former Labor MP Eddie Obeid. Asfour denies the allegations.
Mihailuk resigned from the Labor Party and is running as a One Nation candidate in the upper house.
Asfour later quit Labor’s upper house ticket for the March 25 election after his expense claims were revealed. The claims comply with the council’s reimbursement policies, but the committee’s report described them as not being acceptable to ratepayers.
“The council’s reimbursements of the mayors’ expenses for designer suits, a spa treatment on an overseas council-funded trip, and his attainment of a Master of Business Administration are out of step with the community’s expectations,” the report says.
“The committee recommends that the Office of Local Government review its guidelines on the payment of expenses to councillors and mayors, as well as the requirements for councillors to disclose their pecuniary interests.”
The report says the inquiry was “integral to unearthing numerous issues with the administration and leadership of the Canterbury-Bankstown Council”
“Evidence to the inquiry also uncovered that property developers may be using shell companies to obfuscate their political donations to candidates for local government elections in order to sidestep the ban on political donations from property developers,” the report says.
“The committee recommends that the NSW government review the potential for candidates in local government elections to receive funds from property developers through shell companies, as well as from third-party lobbying firms.”
Asfour described the report as a “public lynching” and criticised the inquiry for not calling MPs who “used parliamentary privilege to make unsubstantiated allegations”.
“The key findings are a joke and the report makes a number of assertions and fallacies around relationships with developers that are based on no evidence or material presented to the committee,” Asfour said on Monday night.
Asfour said he and council staff assisted the inquiry in producing more than 20,000 documents and voluntarily making themselves available to answer questions.
“We turned up and answered all they had to throw at us and after everything they were left with thin air. Nothing to see,” Asfour said.
The chair of the committee, Liberal MLC Aileen MacDonald said the committee’s capacity to “investigate alleged impropriety” had been hindered with the “looming suspension of Legislative Council business from March 3, 2023 in the lead up to the state election”
MacDonald said the “committee’s examination of the issues has not been able to be as effective as it could have been if we had earlier access to information and evidence from key inquiry participants.”
She said the committee recommended that the inquiry be reestablished in the next parliament to continue his probe into the council.
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