Minister responds to protest petition
QUEENSLAND'S Local Government Minister Stirling Hinchliffe has responded to a petition calling for the dismissal of the Cassowary Coast Regional Council, with a finding that the council acted correctly in a legal case.
The 573-name petition coincided with rallies held in Innisfail, Tully and Cardwell, but protest organiser Fred James said he was not happy with the minister's response.
In a two-page response released on Wednesday, Mr Hinchliffe vindicated the Cassowary Coast Regional Council's use of ratepayer funds to support a defamation case brought by chief executive officer James Gott against a Bingil Bay couple.
The minister said the council's decision to back Mr Gott's defamation case was not in conflict with any law or local government principle and that the information available to him suggested the council had followed its own Provision of Legal Assistance for Employees and Councillors Policy.
"At this time, and on the information available, I am not of the view that there is factual evidence on which I might reasonably form such an opinion, and consequently, there is no justification to dissolve the council," Mr Hinchliffe said.
A senior spokesman from the Cassowary Coast Regional Council said the minister's response confirmed the long-held position that the council has acted appropriately and necessarily within the legislation to protect one of its employees.
"That's why the council took the action that it did," a senior council spokesman said.
"The council maintains that defending our employee under the circumstances was both the legal and appropriate thing to do."
Principal petitioner Mr James said the response from the minister was very disappointing.
"The minister at no time contacted myself or any of our group executives from the Cassowary Coast Ratepayers and Residents Action Group before releasing his response," Mr James said.
"He could've appointed an independent investigator to examine the amount of money that has been spent on the private defamation case.
"He is abrogating his responsibility as the Minister for Local Government."
Mr Hinchliffe said he would continue to monitor the situation but encouraged petitioners to engage with the council so as to inform and influence decision-making in the matter.
Over the past two months a statement titled 'The Facts' was advertised and spoken by Cassowary Coast mayor John Kremastos in a meeting on September 26.
Despite the dissemination of these statements the Cassowary Coast Ratepayers and Residents Action Group dismissed its validity and has continued to demand that council release information to authenticate insurance claims.
"As the council has stated previously, there are aspects of the matter that are covered by necessary legal privilege, and other aspects that are commercial-in-confidence - and must remain that way for the present," a senior council spokesman said.
"Because the matter is before the courts there are restrictions on what can be discussed by the council. However, the important point for people to understand is that the council's actions were appropriate and legal - and have been recognised to be so by Mr Hinchliffe.
"There are always going to be a portion of people who will not be satisfied, no matter how much information we provide."
A protest rally is planned for next Saturday at 11am at Mission Beach.