Fadden MP Stuart Robert will be one of the first witnesses. Picture: David Clark
Fadden MP Stuart Robert will be one of the first witnesses. Picture: David Clark

CCC hears independent councillor given LNP donation

WHAT WE KNOW: IT'S been a day of explosive revelations at the Crime and Corruption Commission hearings into the 2016 council elections.

The hearing heard:

* Fadden MP Stuart Robert has told a Crime and Corruption

hearing Cr Boulton knew she was getting $30,000 from the Fadden Forum.

* Cr Boulton had earlier denied knowing the funds were from the LNP

* Cr Boulton said she had "tried to get to the bottom" and admitted "I am nowhere".

* Lobbyist Simone Holzapfel charged two candidates $5000 each for printing services during the 2016 election.

* Ms Holzapfel had worked for six LNP-aligned candidates during the election including Mayor Tom Tate, councillors Kristyn Boulton, Cameron Caldwell, Gary Baildon and Pauline Young as well as failed candidate Felicity Stevenson.

* The Queensland Electoral Commission does not have resources to check every candidate's financial and gift disclosures.

UPDATE: FEDERAL MP Stuart Robert has told a Crime and Corruption Commission hearing he wanted to donate to the council election campaigns of two former staffers to keep Labor out of his electorate.

Taking the witness stand at the CCC hearing in Brisbane on Tuesday, Mr Robert admitted lobbying the Fadden Forum to secure funds for employees Kristyn Boulton and Felicity Stevenson for their campaigns in the 2016 Gold Coast City Council election.

He said the emergence of Labor-linked candidates had created a need to support conservative candidates.

"The idea of Labor getting a foothold in my part of the Gold Coast was not appealing to me," he said.

"That would make my job a lot harder."

He said he told Ms Boulton and Ms Stevenson he would seek funds from the Fadden Forum to help their election campaigns.

However, he said he did not have the authority to rubber stamp any payments without the approval of party heavyweights.

Each was paid $30,000 for their election campaigns.

Ms Boulton won her contest and is now a Gold Coast councillor while Ms Stevenson lost and has since been re-employed at Mr Robert's office.

EARLIER: A GOLD Coast councillor who received $30,000 in campaign donations during last year's council elections thought the money was coming from Federal MP Stuart Robert directly and not his political fundraising arm, a Crime and Corruption Commission hearing has been told.

Kristyn Boulton, a former staffer of Mr Robert, ran as an independent candidate at the 2016 election, but has since been scrutinised after accepting the bulk of her campaign funding from the Fadden Forum, a fundraising arm of Mr Robert, the Federal member for Fadden, to help LNP candidates during election campaigns.

Appearing as a witness at a CCC hearing into the local government elections, Councillor Boulton said Mr Robert had offered to make donations to her campaign, which she assumed were coming from her former boss personally, rather than through the Fadden Forum.

She said she did not feel compromised as an independent candidate after learning that the bulk of her campaign funding came from the Fadden Forum.

"Perhaps I have been a little naive," she said.

Cr Boulton, who won a seat at last year's Gold Coast City Council election, says she was 'open and honest' about her links to her former boss.

Cr Boulton told the CCC hearing she told potential voters that she had worked for Mr Robert for almost nine years and had previously been a member of the LNP.

"I was always very honest," she said.

When quizzed by counsel assisting the CCC Glen Rice, QC, about how she considered herself an 'independent candidate', Councillor Boulton said it was because she was.

"I wasn't running on an endorsed ticket of any kind," she said.

She told the hearing Mr Robert did not encourage her to run for council, but offered 'sage advice' when she told him she was considering running.

Earlier, the Fadden Forum fundraising arm at the centre of a Crime and Corruption Commission investigation into last year's local council elections was "a tool for the re-election of a Liberal government" the hearing was told.

Lobbyist Simone Holzapfel, a one-time press secretary of former Prime Minister Tony Abbott, offered consultancy services for several candidates in the council election on the Gold Coast.

When asked for her understanding of the Fadden Forum, she said it was a fundraising arm tasked with the re-election of a Liberal government.

Fadden MP Stuart Robert, who has admitted giving election funds to two former staffers for their own council election campaigns, is also due to give evidence to the hearing on Tuesday.

Ms Holzapfel was asked if there were "any commonalities" in the campaign platforms and views of the supposedly independent candidates she conducted work for.

Cr Kristyn Boulton arriving at the Crime and Corruption headquarters in Brisbane this morning.
Cr Kristyn Boulton arriving at the Crime and Corruption headquarters in Brisbane this morning.

"No," she said.

Earlier, the head of the Queensland Electoral Commission had "significant" concerns about last year's local council elections, the CCC hearing was told.

Electoral Commissioner of Queensland Walter van der Merwe told the hearing in Brisbane this morning that last year's council polls attracted a large volume of complaints that 'warranted further investigation'.

"Some of these concerns were reasonably significant," he said.

The hearings are part of an extensive CCC investigation, codenamed Operation Belcarra, which is examining last year's local government elections for Gold Coast, Ipswich and Moreton Bay councils.

Allegations have been raised of deceitful conduct by candidates who failed to declare links to political parties or unregistered groups.

Counsel assisting the CCC, Glen Rice QC, said Queenslanders were entitled to have faith in the electoral process.

"Transparency and openness is paramount to the political process," he said.

The hearings, which will also feature evidence from a number of candidates and councillors including Ipswich Mayor Paul Pisasale and Gold Coast Deputy Mayor Donna Gates, has been set down for five days.

ECQ boss Walter van der Merwe said there was no excuse for any candidates caught breaking the law.

Pointing to information in an official candidates guidebook, he said candidates were also advised to study the relevant legislation.

"If you follow my guidelines you can't make a mistake," he said.

"I will provide you with all the information to keep you honest and keep you transparent.

"I don't know what else I can do to be honest."

However, he said since the ECQ lacked the resources for designated investigators, a degree of "good faith" was placed in candidates to do the right thing.

The Crime and Corruption Commission has summoned 19 people to testify as part of an investigation into the conduct of candidates who contested the Gold Coast, Moreton Bay and Ipswich elections.  

Former Turnbull government minister Stuart Robert, former Tony Abbott adviser Simone Holzapfel and Gold Coast City councillor Kristyn Boulton are scheduled to give evidence on the opening day of the hearing in Brisbane on Tuesday.

Gold Coast mayor Tom Tate, Moreton Bay mayor Allan Sutherland, Ipswich mayor Paul Pisasale and other councillors will also give evidence on one of the four other days scheduled between April 19 and 26.

The CCC launched Operation Belcarra in 2016 after the Electoral Commission of Queensland received complaints about improper financial dealings during the local council campaigns.

It included concerns over donations from Mr Robert's Liberal National Party branch's fundraising arm to former staffers who ran as independents. Candidates who run as independents are not allowed to work or fundraise together during an election campaign and risk heavy fines if they don't declare their party or independence.

The CCC hearing, headed by chairperson Alan MacSporran QC, is aiming to uncover if candidates running in each of the three local government areas advertised or fundraised as an "undeclared group of candidates".

It will also gather information about possible criminal offences as part of Operation Belcarra.

News Corp Australia

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