Developer fails in late bid to halt release of IBAC report

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Property developer John Woodman’s bid to stop the release of a corruption report on allegedly crooked land deals could be set for the High Court, after he again failed to block the imminent release of the state integrity watchdog’s paper.

Woodman had argued for an injunction claiming his reputation would suffer considerable damage if the report was allowed to be released.

Developer John Woodman leaves an IBAC hearing in 2019.Credit: Justin McManus

In May, the Supreme Court first dismissed Woodman’s application for an injunction that would have halted the tabling of the Independent Broad-based Anti-corruption Com­mission’s (IBAC) Operation Sandon report to parliament.

On Monday, Woodman’s barrister, Gerard Nash, KC, failed to convince a bench of three Court of Appeal judges that errors were made in the Supreme Court’s decision.

This means the report on a long-running investigation, centred on development approvals by Casey Council in Melbourne’s south-east, could be tabled in parliament later this week.

Woodman’s only legal avenue is to appeal again, this time to the High Court.

John Woodman outside the Court of Appeal on Monday.

Nash had argued it was unreasonable for IBAC to have held a public hearing without first offering Woodman an option to object.

What followed, Nash argued, was an allegedly unlawful public examination that caused his client reputation damage on a “grand scale”.

Nash said if an injunction was refused, “considerable damage” would flow to Woodman.

“His reputation will go further down the hill with further publication of the report,” Nash said.

The Court of Appeal refused to grant leave for an appeal and dismissed the challenge, and Nash acknowledged that at no point during the six-day IBAC hearing did Woodman’s lawyers ask that it be held in private.

At the time, the court heard, Woodman had five lawyers acting for him.

Woodman arrived late to Monday’s hearing dressed in leisure wear and sat alone in the back row. Outside court, he said he was unaware of what was happening before cycling away along Lonsdale Street.

During public IBAC hearings in 2019 and 2020, Woodman was accused of paying more than $1.2 million to Casey councillors and buying political influence by pouring hundreds of thousands of dollars into Labor and Liberal party coffers.

IBAC provided Woodman with the draft report of Operation Sandon in two parts in December and January.

Court documents show Woodman commenced proceedings in the Supreme Court in May four days after an article published in this masthead indicated IBAC’s report was soon to be tabled before state parliament.

On May 23, Justice Steven Moore heard and dismissed the application and ordered Woodman pay costs for IBAC and the state government.

The grounds of his latest appeal alleged there were errors of law in Moore’s judgment.

Nash also declined to comment outside court on the likelihood of another appeal.

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