Council meeting 24th of February 2016.
The Meeting started normally although the public gallery appeared to have an unusually large number of people unrelated to the Union Members present. Their attendance became apparent when the Urgency Motion was put during a personal attack on Liberal Councillor Peter Ristevski accusing him of racial bias, bigotry and religious bias. (An organised setup?)
When the Councillor attempted to defend himself by calling a point of order, also supported by several Councillors, the Mayor ruled against them. Councillor Ristevski then put forward an Urgency Motion which effectively prevented further speakers on the same subject.
The Mayor ruled that the Urgency Motion did not comply with his interpretation of the Local Government Regulations (s10). After much verbal diatribe the Mayor attempted to expel the Councillor. A motion of dissent was called, which the Mayor also ruled out of order (illegally?). Councillor Ristevski persisted with the Urgency Motion and the Motion of Dissent despite requests by the Mayor for additional but unnecessary highly confidential information. That information should and would have been provided during the closed to the public “Confidential session” of the proposed “Urgency Motion”. The Councillors insistence to have the motion dealt with prompted the Mayor to order security staff to escort the Councillor outside the chambers. That in my view was undemocratic, authoritarian and illegal.
To counteract the impasse and restore confidence and transparency to the meeting, I suggested a compromise which stated that:
“The meeting Continue with the public speakers and at their conclusion the Mayor voluntarily vacate the Chair and allow a Council nominated Councillor to take his place for the duration of the Urgency Motion.”
The Mayor refused to accept that compromise and insisted that the Councillor apologises for his refusal to leave and unrelated trivial matters. When that failed, he ordered security staff to remove the Councillor. That in my view was undemocratic, dictatorial and illegal leaving me no choice other than to vacate the Council Chamber together with six like-minded Councillors. It should be noted, that while the Mayor is standing as he did, Councillors cannot speak or interject, their only recourse is to leave the Chamber.
I was also conscious of the fact that if I remained in the meeting (as the only Independent Councillor) it would have no significant impact on the Meeting. Six Councillors are needed for a Quorum, (half of 11 plus one).
While exiting the chambers intimidating threats were made to me and several Councillors by some members of the audience. (Shades of Auburn City Council?) However, the Union Members of the audience were most supportive, they and security staff ensured that the seven Councillors were escorted to their vehicles.
To clarify, several speakers spoke in relation to Rezoning matters before Council and a Traffic related proposal.
After they had spoken, the first speaker to speak on the matter of Halal food (listed under Questions With Notice) triggered the Urgency Motion. While the speakers’ points of view may be trivial to some, it is also unfortunate that the Public is unaware of related issues, in particular those relating to food served at Council events. I can attest to the fact that since the beginning of this Mayors’ term all Council supplied meals at Council and Committee Meetings were Halal compliant. They specifically catered for the religious beliefs of four of the eleven Councillors including the Mayor.
Council staff, under instruction from management, ensured that non-Halal related products were unavailable for almost three years. It should be noted that the previous CEO/GM, also a Muslim, ensured no discrimination occurred, meals were labelled appropriately and Non-Halal food products were readily available at all meetings. However, it is only since the controversial interfaith dinner of late 2015 that meals have reverted to the previous status (although not labelled), possibly due to unfavourable publicity and the manner in which the initial change by “stealth” occurred, non-Halal products such as ham and bacon sandwiches are back on the menu. Thanks primarily due to efforts by the Councillor being castigated for his religious beliefs. Arguably he was being discriminated against as were the majority of Councillors, staff and visitors attending those meetings.
The Mayor extols the virtues of our Multicultural, Multi-ethnic Community at every opportunity, and I support most of that, however, he conveniently leaves out the negative aspects that lead to divisiveness.
Irrespective of one’s religious views the fact that a minority has the power to significantly affect the majority for almost three years, without consultation, is overstepping boundaries and amounts to blatant discrimination. Trivial maybe, but where does it end?
Clr Peter Harle