A mayor helped lobby for a $100,000 government grant to a Somali community group as a favour to a factional mate who then paid himself a “significant” amount of it, an inquiry has been told.
Banyule Mayor Rick Garotti is giving evidence before an Independent Broad-based Anti-corruption inquiry into whether taxpayer resources were used to help Labor’s branch-stacking operations.
The inquiry was told Mr Garotti helped lobby Labor ministers in 2019 on behalf of the Somali Australian Council of Victoria (SACOV) founder and secretary Hussein Haraco for an anti-gambling program grant.
The state government provided $75,000, with more than $51,000 of that used to pay SACOV’s wages and salary, the inquiry was told.
Counsel assisting Chris Carr SC said evidence showed Dr Haraco was paid “very significant amounts, proportions of grants, as apparent salaries”.
“That’s a complete shock to me,” Mr Garotti responded.
“He always said to me he never got any personal benefit out of any money that went to SACOV.”
Mr Garotti agreed, under questioning, that he lobbied for the grant as a factional favour without knowing the amount sought or what exactly it would be used for.
He conceded he and Dr Haraco were involved in the dishonest practice of branch stacking for the moderate Labor faction, using factional alliances to try to influence government decisions about who gets jobs and grants.
“On what basis could you possibly say you thought you put any store in Dr Haraco’s integrity?” Mr Carr then asked.
“I always thought he was running it in best interests of community, he wasn’t getting any personal benefit. As he indicated to me he was dipping his own funds in at times to keep it going,” Mr Garotti replied.
“I knew obviously he was factionally involved and we worked together in the branches, but I always believed that SACOV was a genuine community group that was doing things properly and above board and servicing the community.”
Mr Garotti estimated Dr Haraco had recruited about 300 members to the party over the last decade.
The hearing continues.