EXCLUSIVE by ERWIN CHLANDA
The Town Council and the Department of Housing and Community Development are both declining to comment on reported breaches of the council’s code of conduct.
Neither will confirm nor deny that such breaches have occurred and if so, are currently subject to action under the Local Government Act.
Acting on credible reports from people not wishing to be named, the Alice Springs News Online asked the department and council CEO Rex Mooney this morning whether council staff, councillors and members of the public are involved in legal action over breaches of the council’s code of conduct.
“Would you please advise whether or not that is true,” we emailed.
According to the Act, proceedings of disciplinary committees “are to be held in a place open to the public unless the disciplinary committee considers it desirable, in the public interest, to hold the proceedings in private”.
The department’s response seems to go against the spirit of transparency in this provision.
The department replied: “It is a matter for the disciplinary committee as to whether a complaint will be heard publicly or will be treated as confidential.
“No disciplinary committee has informed the Department that any code of conduct complaint related to the Alice Springs Town Council will be made public.
“As such, the details of any alleged breaches or the identity of complainants or respondents will be treated as confidential by the Department unless and until a disciplinary committee instructs the Department otherwise.”
This was followed by a one-sentence statement from Mr Mooney: “In light of the response from the Department of Housing and Community Development I am unable to make any comment.”
The Local Government Act has provisions for sacking councillors, imprisoning them for up to six months or fining them up to about $16,000 if they breach their council’s code of conduct.
This is decided by a disciplinary committee appointed by the Minister of Local Government.
This committee would receive evidence from the complainant and the respondent, and meet in a place open to the public unless it decides otherwise.
The committee may require a person to appear before it to give evidence on oath; to provide written answers and to produce documents or other evidentiary materials.
A person who gives evidence has the same privileges and immunities as a witness in proceedings before the Supreme Court.
Publication of a fair report of proceedings or findings of a disciplinary committee is protected by qualified privilege which means the reporter has a defence in any defamation action.
Department, council mum on code of conduct questions
EXCLUSIVE by ERWIN CHLANDA