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Hotels donation sparks conflict of interest fear
By Matt Johnston and Ben Butler - Herald Sun (VIC Metropolitan, 4 February 2009)

LORD Mayor Robert Doyle could be blocked from voting on council decisions that affect pubs and clubs because he accepted a campaign donation from their peak lobby group.

Mr Doyle -- who was elected to fight alcohol-fuelled violence in the CBD and said he would look at the impact pubs and clubs had on the city -- accepted $10,000 from the Australian Hotels Association in the lead-up to last year's election. His campaign ticket included his deputy, Susan Riley.

New state laws, established last year, mean the donation from AHA may give Mr Doyle an "indirect interest" in matters affecting the AHA -- whose members include "hotel, hospitality, accommodation, liquor, gaming and wagering interests in Victoria".

Anyone in a council who has an indirect interest on a matter is not allowed to participate in discussions or vote on that matter. The laws affect all councils, and were designed to stamp out problems with conflict of interest.

Anyone breaking local government laws faces an $11,000 fine.

Mr Doyle said council lawyers have assured him he could still vote on matters involving licensed premises.

But political donations law experts say it was not clear the new laws, which affect any councillor who had received a gift of $200 or more in the past five years, would allow Mr Doyle to debate and vote on matters for which the AHA has policies or positions.

Mr Doyle said council lawyers told him he could still discuss and vote on issues affecting pubs and clubs that are members of the AHA.

"If it's a peak body, like the AHA, that's not a conflict of interest when it comes to a constituent member," he said.

Mr Doyle said he'd been open with all campaign donations he received, even disclosing $15,000 he used from his own pocket. He said all councillors should have to declare personal investment in campaigns. He also received $20,000 in donations from the Fox Group and David Fox.

Senior lecturer at the University of Melbourne's Law School, Joo-Cheong Tham, told the Herald Sun Mr Doyle could face legal challenges.

He said if the AHA had policies on issues being debated by the council that affected its members, it could be argued that AHA had a direct interest in the matter.

Monash University Governance Research Unit director, ex-Labor MP Dr Ken Coghill, agreed: "Clearly if (Mr Doyle) wanted to take some action that would disadvantage licensed premises he's put himself in an awkward situation."

Opposition local government spokeswoman Jeannette Powell said the State Government must release guidelines on the laws. | End

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