Greens call for Minister to save Freewater
NSW Greens Local Government spokesman Mr David Shoebridge MLC has called on the Local Government Minister to intervene to ensure Cr Peter Freewater is not suspended as a Gosford councillor.
Gosford Council called in September for the Director-General of Local Government to suspend Cr Freewater after his comments that a weekend workshop was a "junket" were found to be contrary to the council's code of conduct.
A council-appointed conduct reviewer found that Cr Freewater was in breach of the code when he told the media that an $8000 weekend workshop for councillors and senior management at Rafferty's Resort Lake Macquarie was a "junket, completely unnecessary and a waste of ratepayers' money".
Another comment, that the "Council are arrogant. They're unbelievable", was also found to be in breach of the code.
Last week Mr Shoebridge said that "Cr Freewater was raising legitimate matters for public debate and he should not have been prosecuted for raising them publicly".
"Cr Freewater has been found to have breached the code of conduct because he was a strident critic of some decisions of his council that he voted against.
"In effect, he has been found guilty of being a councillor."
Mr Shoebridge said that the case highlighted some of the problems with the Code of Conduct.
"Each of these complaints should have been seen for what they were, political attacks on an inconvenient political voice.
"There needs to be a fundamental change in the way complaints under the Code are initially assessed, with an early, independent and objective review being undertaken by a person well removed from the council's political machinations.
"General managers, who only remain in office if they keep the political support of a majority of councillors, should have no role whatsoever in assessing Code of Conduct complaints.
"In many councils, code of conduct complaints have become political weapons and are used to fight essentially partisan battles using council resources."
"It is fairly clear that the Code of Conduct is not being used to raise the standard of councillor behaviour, rather it has become a petty political tool for those who are willing to use it," Mr Shoebridge said.
Mr Shoebridge said the NSW government was currently reviewing the Model Code of Conduct ahead of the September 2012 local government elections.
As well as calling on the Minister to ensure Cr Freewater is not suspended, Mr Shoebridge said: "We have put in a direct submission to the state government review of the model code of conduct to prohibit this kind of petty use of the code of conduct in future."