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Westfield in the gun across Tasman

Friday 10th March 2000

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The mall manager's tactics are under scrutiny, CAMPBELL MCILROY writes

Westfield's Australian parent company has been embroiled in a court action over claims it set up bogus lobby groups to oppose competitors' mall developments.

Westfield Australia hired Ken Hooper, a former Liberal Party press secretary, to run a clandestine community-based campaign to stop a rival mall development near the Homebush Olympic stadium.

That mall's developer, Seph Glew, began to investigate the sudden appearance of Hooper's Resident Action Group and another group, Sydney Independent Retailers, which opposed his development. When Mr Glew discovered Mr Hooper's role in establishing the opposition groups he filed an application for preliminary discovery in the Federal Court of Australia in October 1998 to find out who Mr Hooper was working for.

The judgment of Justice Tamberlin said "these allegations are of a serious nature and may call into question the motives and character of persons or entities involved in mounting the opposition."

Mr Hooper's colleague Jim Photios swore an affidavit confirming Mr Hooper organised the community group on Westfield's behalf. Correspondence submitted as evidence in the court showed Mr Hooper also advised Westfield to apply pressure on politicians not to allow the development to proceed.

"Our strongest weapon is probably a political one, in that the local Member of Parliament, John Murray, is in a relatively marginal seat ... There is, of course, a very real danger that because of the size of the project and its proximity to the Olympics' venue at Homebush, the Minister for Urban Affairs and Planning, Craig Knowles, would be tempted to place a regional development order over the site. Westfield should urgently undertake to convince Mr Knowles that such a move would cause a voter backlash in the seat of Drummoyne and could affect Mr Murray's re-election campaign."

Westfield admitted hiring Mr Hooper but said if he took inappropriate action it regretted it. Westfield has also been linked to a successful campaign to halt a proposed Woolworths supermarket development in Sydney.

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