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Napthine embroiled in funding row on eve of election

AN obscure project to upgrade toilets and a taxi rank in Warrnambool’s Gilles Street has erupted into a major attack on the integrity of Premier Denis Napthine on the eve of the election.

Victorian Premier Denis Napthine (right) with Warrnambool mayor Michael Neoh announcing the upgrade of Gilles Street earlier this month. 141114DW32 Picture: DAMIAN WHITE

The flames, ignited by criticism from two city councillors, were fanned by Labor’s candidate for South West Coast Roy Reekie, who accused Dr Napthine of falling short on his duties as local member by not knowing that local businessman and former racehorse co-owner Colin McKenna was associated with a proposed housing unit development at the end of the street.

“He should have known of the risks of perceived conflict of interest,” Mr Reekie said.

“What checks, if any did he take to ensure it was appropriately targeted and was it a priority for the community.”

The row centres around Dr Napthine’s announcement two weeks ago of grants totalling $500,000 for the $850,000 revamp which is part of the council’s city centre revitalisation.

He hit back angrily yesterday afternoon describing the criticism as “a disgraceful attack” with no substance.

“Only early this week did I became aware Mr McKenna was involved in the development,” Dr Napthine said.

“I haven’t interfered in any way shape or form with the approval of the grants.

“The grants applications have been driven by the council, not by me and have been through all the proper processes.

“There is a clear need for improvements to that part of Warrnambool.” Dr Napthine declined to criticise councillors Peter Hulin and Brian Kelson who said the announcement was unexpected and would have been better allocated to Liebig Street.

“People will judge councillors on their performance,” he said.

Cr Hulin said it was “curious” the grants were approved to revamp a street leading to the proposed housing development and Cr Kelson said the announcement came as a “bolt out of the blue”.

Cr Hulin denied suggestions he was a Liberal Party member attacking his leader. “I resigned from the Liberal Party several months ago,” he told The Standard.

“Regardless of what political party a councillor may belong to, if you feel you can’t speak out you should resign. My number-one priority is to serve the people.”

Mayor Michael Neoh also weighed in to the issue, describing the two councillors’ comments as “disturbing” and he accused them of deliberately leaving out context of the funding.

“They are not conveying the facts on our strategic approach to city centre revitalisation,” the mayor said.

“We put in an expression of interest for funding in February and the needs for upgrading the toilets and taxi rank have been clearly identified.

“Gilles Street work is not taking away from Liebig Street revitalisation, for which we will seek a substantial funding allocation after the elections.”

This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.

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