A developer who offered $20,000 to a Labor candidate’s campaign said he would be ‘amazed if she doesn’t deliver’.
A Victorian political candidate agreed to meet a developer who offered her campaign $20,000, despite feeling “uncomfortable” pressure to represent his interests.
In a secretly recorded phone call played to a corruption inquiry, millionaire developer John Woodman threatens to “up the ante to $20,000” to win candidate Pauline Richards’ support for a Cranbourne West development during the 2018 state election campaign.
Mr Woodman, who is at the centre of the Independent Broad-based Anti-corruption Commission inquiry, had been pushing for industrial land at Cranbourne West to be rezoned for housing, which would have netted him millions.
Ms Richards, now the Cranbourne MP, told the inquiry she felt pressured by Mr Woodman’s lobbyists constantly contacting her to push for the lucrative rezoning.
“I was starting to feel uncomfortable,” she said.
Despite that, she agreed to meet Mr Woodman and his Labor lobbyist Phil Staindl for coffee at the Sofitel, five days after Mr Woodman offered her campaign a $20,000 donation, which Ms Richards suggested should go to another Labor candidate.
“I felt I was sending a message I was not interested in the campaign receiving such a large amount,” she said.
“I wanted him to take the pressure off and that I wouldn’t submit.”
Counsel assisting Michael Tovey suggested the situation must have led Ms Richards to think they were “buying you off”?
“It’s untenable you went to that meeting not knowing it was a very bad look?” Mr Tovey asked.
In retrospect, Ms Richards wished she hadn’t gone.
“I didn’t arrange that meeting in exchange for any donation,” she said.
“I was agreeing to meet with anyone who wanted to meet with me.”
She said she assumed the donation was being made because they wanted the Cranbourne campaign to be successful for Labor.
“I didn’t see the donation as being connected to the coffee.”
Ms Richards said she had no recollection of taking a letter they offered her at the meeting about the land rezoning so she could take up their cause with the government.
She said she told them retiring sitting MP Jude Perera was the correct person to deliver the letter to.
However, after the meeting, Mr Woodman reported in a secretly recorded call that Ms Richards was “totally on board”.
“I’m very comfortable she’s going to go all the way, Jose, to make it happen,” Mr Woodman said.
“I’ll be amazed if she doesn’t deliver for us.”
Mr Richards recalled being “smiley but not encouraging”.
She rejected telling them she supported their position.
“I wish I had been clearer in my intention not to make representations on his behalf,” she said.
“I could have left them with that impression less than I had anticipated.”
Ms Richards said she had known Mr Staindl for a long time and understood he was working for Mr Woodman and a range of other interests.
“I thought that he was an intermediary and as such had some type of role close to independence when it came to these matters.”
The hearing continues on Tuesday.