Notes on a scandal

Wednesday 27 Feb 2008

Australia rocked by town planning sex scandal

This week, Wollongong, a quiet provincial town in New South Wales (NSW) Australia has become the centre of the world’s media attention as a court hearing unravelled a complex web of corruption, sex, power and intrigue. The star of the drama was glamorous ex town planner Beth Morgan.

The town planner, who was dismissed from the Council in June last year for "serious misconduct" told the powerful Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) that she signed off her lovers' projects - the Victoria Square and Quattro developments - even though they did not conform to council guidelines.

Morgan has been accused of approving development schemes to the value A$135 in return for gifts and sex with wealthy developers. The affair, dubbed by the media as the "Mile High Rise Club", has riveted Australia. In a strange twist of irony, it is reported in the Sydney Morning Herald that it was Beth Morgan who wrote Wollongong City Council's guidelines on ethical dealings with developers.

The 32 year old divorcee has given testimony to the powerful that she had affairs with three wealthy developers, Frank Vellar, Glen Tabak and Michael Kollaras in Wollongong, an industrial city south of Sydney.

Two of the developers told the inquiry that Ms Morgan was possibly “on a mission for sex”, determined to bed as many men of influence during her seven year stint as a planner. One such encounter helped a developer gain approval for a A$82 million commercial and residential building despite it being bigger and taller than allowed by local regulations.

One developer, Michael Kollaras initially denied having an affair but was subsequently confronted with a series of highly personal incriminating emails.

However the investigation soon exploded with allegations that conman Ray Younan and Gerald Carroll allegedly extorted Ms Morgan and others by claiming that they were ICAC officials linked to the Wollongong investigation. They allegedly extorted money by promising to help drop the investigation. The inquiry has previously been told Mr Vellar paid a $100,000 bribe to the convicted fraudster and his associate Gerald Carroll after they pretended to be in league with ICAC officers. Beth Morgan has claimed that she received threats.

Bizarre insights into Wollongong life were provided at the hearing, one being the developers and council staffs’ choice of venue for their regular breakfast meetings, dubbed the "Table of Knowledge" - a Northbeach kebab shop often from 6.30am. Senior Australian Labour Party (ALP) figure Joe Scimone was also a regular at the table. He was given an executive job in NSW Maritime while being investigated for allegations that he gave a $30,000 payment to pervert the course of the investigation. Mr Scimone is also facing allegations that he sexually harassed a number of women including Beth Morgan, at Wollongong Council.

As the enquiry which started this week, began to spread, Premier Morris Iemma warned that “heads would roll” if any of his front bench were found to be involved.

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