EXCLUSIVE: Outrage is growing after Sydney Lord Mayor Clover Moore decided to give almost $300,000 of ratepayers money without tender to a newly set up corporate ‘charity’ headed by a convicted fraudster and drugs trafficker. And now, ICAC is investigating. Serkan Ozturk reports.
It was an announcement from Sydney Lord Mayor Clover Moore and her well-oiled team at the City of Sydney that was met with a fanfare of rainbows and photo opportunities across media and social media.
“Council has just voted unanimously to provide seed-funding for the Qtopia Sydney queer museum!” Moore crowed triumphantly in April.
“Council has also unanimously supported Qtopia’s call for the State Government to provide the former Darlinghurst Police Station at Taylor Square as the site for a permanent museum.
“While this building contributed to injustices suffered by many LGBTIQA+ people, transforming it into a significant community resource will support the healing of past injustices, address past wrongs, and celebrate the community’s resilience.
“Museums and cultural spaces play a central role in how we remember the past and interpret the present.”
The Lord Mayor’s press release then gave some space to describe just what or who exactly this new Qtopia group was.
“Qtopia Sydney is made up of people with experience and expertise in newspaper and magazine publishing, marketing, public relations and crisis communication, LGBTQIA+ history and culture, HIV and AIDS education, museum curation, strategic engagement, trans* and First Nations issues,” the statement read.
It is interesting to note the above statement seems to emphasise the newly formed group’s nous for PR spin and media trickery before giving any credence to what its core mission might indeed be.
Beneath all the Council’s self-congratulatory sparkle and glitter about progress and equality though it can now be revealed by True Crime News Weekly that there instead may lie a deeper truth and age-old tradition: that of alleged corruption and graft through grant giving.
It can be revealed that the awarding of the $300,000 grant to Qtopia came without a tender process of any kind and was given to a newly formed organisation whose CEO spent almost a decade in prison over serious corporate fraud offences as well as for being the principal of a sophisticated drugs trafficking operation specialising in cocaine, methamphetamines and GHB.
It can be further revealed by True Crime News Weekly that the recent grant was given without tender due to an alleged serious conflict of interest between senior advisers for the Lord Mayor and board members of Qtopia.
It is believed it is the first time the City of Sydney has ever given such an amount of public money with or without tender to a serious convicted criminal.
Greedy fraudster & drug dealer ripped off Sydney’s queer community before
Greg Fisher is the CEO of Qtopia Sydney.
In November 2006, Fisher was sentenced to prison for almost eight years for being the principal in a drug ring which imported 277.5 grams of pure cocaine with a street value of $100,000.
It had been alleged by police that a “Kings Cross unit used by ‘Greg Fisher and Associates’ was used to distribute drugs including cocaine, gammahydroxybutyrate (GHB), ecstasy, crystal methamphetamine (ice) and amphetamines, with drug dealers and buyers visiting the high-rise unit.”
The drugs offences were committed while Fisher was on bail for offences against the Corporations Act, for which he would also be jailed.
During his sentencing for the drugs offences, Fisher had claimed he fell into trafficking drugs as a way to repay his debts to drug dealers following the collapse of a property and media empire which he helped ruin by stealing hundreds of thousands of dollars from the company.
RELATED – TRUE OPINION: How gay media got into this mess
Fisher was once a corporate high-flier who in his pomp around the turn of the millennium was reportedly “surrounded by celebrities, seen at every A-list party, perched high above Sydney in his penthouse with expensive cars below. He sailed Sydney Harbour in his flash yacht surrounded by a bevy of buffed men as his play things.”
Two decades ago, Fisher was the CEO of The Satellite Property and Media Group, which had floated on the Australian Stock Exchange in 1999.
The company had managed to raise over $25 million after attracting luminaries from Sydney’s gay and lesbian community, including Dr Kerryn Phelps as chair of the group.
It was just before our current digital media age and Fisher had embarked on purchasing every single gay and lesbian media publication in Australia at the time, except the Star Observer.
Just six months after the stock listing however, Satellite Media collapsed resulting in hundreds of gay and lesbian employees out of a job.
A year before his conviction for cocaine trafficking, Fisher had been sentenced in early 2005 to two years prison after being found guilty on six counts of dishonesty that had helped lead to Satellite Media’s collapse.
Fisher had taken over $220,000 in company funds for his own personal use to sponsor fashion designer Alex Perry’s show for Fashion Week in 2000.
He ended up serving just six months on the corporate fraud charges thanks to sentence discounts for co-operating with authorities on other matters.
The judge presiding over Fisher’s fraud case found the businessman was acting out of narcissistic entitlement.
Fisher had been represented for his corporate fraud case by the notorious criminal defence barrister, Charles Waterstreet. The disgraced lawyer – who can no longer practice following bankruptcy and a slew of sexual harassment complaints from young university students – would give Fisher another mark of approval following his eventual release from prison and his decision to put his life story down onto paper.
“An extraordinary memoir about coming out, going in, and making it through the other side,” Waterstreet gushed on the cover of Fisher’s book.
Fisher meanwhile would not apologise to Australia’s gay and lesbian community until 2015, about 15 years after he first took so many people in the local queer community for a ride. He only said sorry when it came time to promote his newly released memoir.
“Inside Out”: Convicted fraudster and drug dealer Greg Fisher’s new corporate charity was recently handed $300,000 without tender by Lord Mayor Clover Moore (Image: Supplied)
“Corruption 101″: Council defends grant amidst alleged conflict of interest
Although entities such as the Pride History Group, the Australian Queer Archives or even ACON have existed for decades and are seemingly better placed to create a LGBTIQA+ museum, the Lord Mayor saw it fit for some reason to award hundreds of thousands in “seed funding” to Qtopia without tender.
The newly formed corporate charity seems to have sprung out of nowhere, with a Facebook page being launched for the organisation just a few months ago along with the announcements of high profile patrons including ABC chairperson Ita Buttrose, former High Court judge Michael Kirby and board members such as former NRL footballer, Ian Roberts.
This being Sydney, the Lord Mayor’s deal with Qtopia also apparently has a lot to do with prime multi-million dollar inner-city real estate.
As reported in the Sydney Morning Herald, the corporate charity has enlisted Liberal City of Sydney councillor, Lyndon Gannon, to help lobby for the site of the former Darlinghurst Police Station at 301 Forbes Street to go from public hands into private.
Councillor Gannon was said to have recently met with his Liberal Party counterpart – NSW Health Minister Brad Hazzard – to pitch a transfer of the site that is currently owned by the state-operated Health Administration Corporation and used as offices.
With the sleight of a hand, what was once public land will now become highly valued property belonging to a newly-formed ‘corporate charity’ whose boss is a serious convicted felon. Again, all without tender. If only the City of Sydney and NSW Government were so generous with its million-dollar inner-city properties for the homeless and not just for their corporate high-flier mates.
Sources have informed True Crime News Weekly that the suspicious deal has come about because of alleged close links between the Lord Mayor’s office and the board of Qtopia.
It has been alleged that Larry Galbraith, a senior policy adviser who works for Moore in the Lord Mayor’s office, has close ties to Qtopia board member, Johnny Allen.
Allen is a queer cultural historian and events manager, who recently co-curated the Vivid event Queer Sydney at the Powerhouse Museum.
It has been alleged that Galbraith had an interest in Allen’s Vivid event.
Galbraith has a background in media and publishing, having been a previous editor of the Star Observer.
When True Crime News Weekly asked the Lord Mayor whether there was a conflict of interest in the grant being awarded to Qtopia, a spokesperson for the Council claimed everything was above board.
“City staff from the grants and cultural teams made an independent assessment of the proposal and a subsequent recommendation to Council.
“The grant is being made to Qtopia Sydney Limited, not an individual. As with all City of Sydney grants, recipients need to fulfil several legal requirements to secure and maintain funding,” a spokesperson for the Lord Mayor claimed.
“The City has a long history of supporting the LGBTIQA+ community, including through the provision of grants. An open tender for these grants is not always appropriate or necessary.
“When City staff recommend funding for major events like Mardi Gras or WorldPride, it does not request a full tender process for alternative event providers.”
Sydney Lord Mayor Clover Moore gave $300,000 to a convicted fraudster and cocaine trafficker without tender (Image: Wikipedia / Supplied)
It has been reported that if after six months Qtopia has not secured a permanent location for the museum, the council will help Qtopia find a suitable place to exhibit a “stand-alone event” as part of World Pride, which is next year. Why Qtopia is being given almost $300,000 to establish a permanent museum or a “stand-alone event” is puzzling to say the least.
World Pride 2023 has been billed as “the biggest event” in the Harbour City since the Sydney Olympics in 2000. Considering how difficult it is to score a lousy few hundred dollars from a council arts grant, Qtopia must be ever so grateful for the City of Sydney’s recent generosity.
When True Crime News Weekly suggested the awarding of the grant to Qtopia may have been “Corruption 101”, the Lord Mayor’s office said it would not be providing any further response. The matter is now under the gaze of the Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC).
“Stunned and Shocked”: Alarm bells ring over grant & land deal
The City of Sydney has been exploring the possibility of a LGBTIQA+ museum on and off for almost a decade, since 2014.
The idea of a permanent museum celebrating, commemorating and honouring Australia’s LGBTIQA+ community has been one long up for discussion ever since the first Mardi Gras held in Sydney in 1978. Many of the original participants that day would end up being violently beaten up by homophobic police in the old Darlinghurst Police Station building.
One of those original Mardi Gras participants – a 78er – told True Crime News Weekly that they were “completely stunned and shocked” at the announcement that Qtopia had been given public funding to scope or build the museum.
“The matter of a site for such a museum, temporary or permanent, is a sensitive issue that would require much consultation at grassroots level, including with 78ers, so that the outcome does not cause harm or deep division within the community. The lack of such an approach worries me greatly.
WATCH: PETER MURPHY CRIES AS HE REMEMBERS BEING ALMOST KILLED BY COPS AFTER THE FIRST MARDI GRAS IN 1978
Kane Race is Professor of Gender and Cultural Studies at the University of Sydney.
The academic with strong ties to the city’s queer community told True Crime News Weekly that there were legitimate questions to be asked about the awarding of the grant to Qtopia.
“It seems to me that engaging a professional curator and accredited queer historians is essential for an important project like this,” Professor Race said.
“If it is true there was no tender process for the museum, this strikes me as very odd.”
Former employees of Satellite Media meanwhile have said scars from the media company’s collapse were still raw, two decades later.
“No one should have anything to do with any enterprise with which Greg Fisher is associated,” one former worker said.
A former business partner who wished to remain anonymous was even more succinct with their horror.
“I shudder whenever I see or hear Greg’s name,” they told True Crime News Weekly in a phone call.
Barry Charles – better known to some as ‘Trough Man’ – is another well-connected source in Sydney’s queer community. The longtime stalwart of Mardi Gras parties recently posted on social media that the City of Sydney should reflect on just exactly who it has given public funds to.
“Council should reconsider their funding and question the board about [Greg Fisher’s] appointment,” Mr Charles wrote. “I wish him well in his recovery and rehabilitation but our community must protect itself from any possibility of this project falling over.”
One queer rights activist meanwhile attacked Qtopia’s CEO for being a “crook” and having a “track record of misusing funds”, and added that the decision to use the former site of Dalringhurst Police Station was also problematic.
“This was done with NO consultation with the 78ers, Pride History Group Sydney or the archives,” the activist said.
“As a result you are using the old Darlo cop shop site where countless numbers of LGBTIQA+ folks have been bashed by cops in the holding cells, especially after the first Mardi Gras.
“This is nothing but an in-house corporate tug in time for World Pride.”
Another lesbian woman meanwhile said: “I honestly cannot think of a better use of this location but the involvement of Greg Fisher does not fill me with confidence”.
Qtopia goes to ground, including “esteemed” patrons
Ita Buttrose with Greg Fisher and Liberal Party councillor Lyndon Gannon outside the old Darlinghurst Police Station (Image: Sydney Morning Herald / Supplied)
True Crime News Weekly contacted Qtopia’s “two very highly regarded patrons” – ABC chairperson Ita Buttrose and former High Court judge Michael Kirby – to find out if they had anything to say about the growing controversy, or if they wanted to defend their organisation’s CEO.
We had asked both Mr Kirby and Ms Buttrose what steps they would take to ensure there would be no financial impropriety of public money given to Qtopia. We had also asked for an explanation on why they had decided to promote the newly set up organisation of a convicted fraudster and drugs trafficker. We as well asked whether they believed other LGBTIQA+ organisations with greater relevance and no ties to serious convicted felons might have been better placed to receive such largesse from the council.
After contacting the ABC, a spokesperson for Ms Buttrose said she would not be providing a response “at this time”.
Mr Kirby did not respond to our questions.
It usually takes a lot to shut up both a former High Court judge and high-flying corporate media schmoozer, but it seems like the questions from True Crime News Weekly just about managed it.
Considering that the City of Sydney had unanimously waved through the grant to Qtopia, True Crime News Weekly also got in contact with all current councillors, including the Liberal Party’s, Lyndon Gannon, and the Labor Party’s, Linda Scott.
Councillor Gannon did not respond to our email.
Councillor Scott meanwhile is also the President of the Australian Local Government Association. She told True Crime News Weekly: “The Lord Mayor, Clover Moore, is the delegated spokesperson for the City of Sydney Council and, as a result, we refer you to her for comment on these matters. If you feel that there is anything you need to report for probity reasons I encourage you to send these concerns and report them to the relevant authority”.
Qtopia’s CEO Greg Fisher wouldn’t respond to questions from True Crime News Weekly or accept our many invitations for a phone or in-person interview.
RELATED – TRUE OPINION: “I WAS A TEEN BOY EXPLOITED BY LGBTIQ MEDIA”! And now I want answers
A spokesperson for Qtopia did however threaten this publication by text message after informing us that Fisher “won’t be participating” with this story.
“If your primary question is ‘… whether financially backing convicted felons is something the City of Sydney are willing to do beyond this one project,’ this is not something Qtopia Sydney is in a position to answer,” the spokesperson said.
“Further to your potentially defamatory questions, the financial support has not been given to Greg Fisher, but to the organisation, fully supported by a board of directors, two very highly regarded patrons, and a host of organisations who have supplied independent review and operational structure, including Hall & Wilcox and PWC.”
From what we saw with Satellite Media, a star-studded board never stopped Fisher from engaging in dodgy business before.
A few years back though Fisher was at pains to tell the world he was a changed man, deserving of another chance.
“I use my past commercial skills for social causes now, not for personal gain,” the convicted criminal told SBS Television forum show Insight in 2019.
“I actually love what I’m doing and I’m good at it. Remorse to me is an action. It’s actually showing you mean it.
“People are not stupid. They know when you’re genuine and they know when you’re not.”