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Statement from former councillor Rosemary Cousin

Former councillor Rosemary Cousin.

THE following is a statement from former South Gippsland Shire councillor Rosemary Cousin in response to two questions from The Star.

Those questions were: 

  • What is your reaction to the sacking?
  • Was it justified or not?

 

Ms Cousin’s statement is: “I am deeply distressed at the sacking of the Council, which is a great loss for local democracy. This loss will extend over an extremely long time frame – perhaps even beyond October 2021. I believe it will be detrimental to the wellbeing of the shire’s economy, community and environment; and will be a situation the community will want to extricate itself from very quickly when the full consequences are known.
“There have undoubtedly been problems in the Council. That’s how I came to be there in the first place in October 2018. The Monitor’s report at the end of March 2019 gave Councillors for the first time a specific checklist of concerns to respond to. Most Councillors diligently worked through these during April and adopted the intent of a Good Governance Action Plan on 8th May 2019.
I am deeply disappointed in the Monitor’s report and concerned about the shortcomings of the Municipal Monitoring process. I hold this view for several reasons.
Firstly, in June 2018, the Chief Municipal Inspector recommended that the Local Government Minister appoint a Municipal Monitor in South Gippsland.

This report, and many details of the circumstances that led to it, have never been made available to Council. Consequently, Council was being judged by the Monitor and the Minister about their response to a specific set of Inspectorate concerns that Council was kept completely in the dark about. Councillors were not enabled to specifically address these concerns during the term of the Monitor.
Secondly, the Monitor’s terms of reference empowered the Monitor: To advise on, and provide assistance and support, to the Council in relation to the Council’s governance processes and practices.

Despite this, four councillors resigned during the term of the Monitor.

All four Councillors failed to lodge any Code of Conduct complaints including evidence that would have enabled proper, evidence-based and independent investigation under Council’s Local Law and the Local Government Act of their claims and complaints. Instead, all four councillors chose to run a public media campaign. The latest councillor to resign, Cr Aaron Brown followed the same pattern of behaviour and lodged no formal complaints and continued the trial by innuendo and media rather than via any proper legal investigation. This is no way to genuinely seek to redress problems, if that was ever the intent. This public campaign has shattered the Council and has done significant damage to local democracy.
Thirdly, at the Leongatha public meeting held in March 2019, former Councillor Meg Edwards aired again her claims of intimidation, bullying and stalking from unspecified councillors. Stalking is of course a police matter; investigation of all Code of Conduct complaints are properly dealt with under the Local Law and Local Government Act. Immediately after the public meeting, I wrote to the Monitor asking whether Ms Edwards’ complaints had ever been formally investigated by the Local Government Inspectorate. In my view the Inspectorate and/or Monitor had a duty of care to ensure proper investigations were undertaken. I felt this doubly so, as I was a new councillor airlifted into Council under extraordinary circumstances. I was dismayed to find, shortly after my enquiry to the Monitor, a small article in the Star that the Minister for Local Government had finally asked the Inspectorate to investigate this former Councillor’s claims. I’m sure we all look forward hearing of the outcome of this investigation.
Fourthly, Council and Councillors were assured that the Minister would take into account all responses to the matters raised in the Monitor’s Final Report. Councillors were asked to keep the Monitors Report and our responses to it confidential. We were told these documents and our submissions would be made available for public perusal after the Minister considered them. This has still not happened, up until the time of writing. Council was effectively gagged from public discussion about the matters raised by the Monitor and its responses.
You may say that the Commission of Inquiry fulfilled the need for independent investigation of outgoing councillor concerns. The Commission is not a substitute for the specific procedures for Code Complaints set out in the local law and Local Government Act; which have not only a fair hearing process, require evidence, notifications and disclosure of documents, they also set out a right of appeal. The Commission has only some of these features essential for natural justice. 
The Commission’s rushed Final Report came on 19 June. In two sentences, Commissioners dismissed the 13-page Action Plan for Good Governance- the intent of which was adopted by Council on 8th May 2019. The Action Plan not only responded positively to each of the issues raised in the Monitor’s Report, it also set out reasonable actions for councillors and the administration to help bolster performance under each of the principles of good governance. These principles emerged several years ago as considered thought and deliberation by the Geelong Commission of Inquiry. South Gippsland’s Commission of Inquiry offered nothing of substance in its place. In ignoring the Action Plan the Commissioners leave a no positive instructions going forward. This raises serious questions about how the administrators will operate and the accountability and transparency of their decision making; about the healing needed to rebuild with the community trust in local government; and about what specific responses can and should be made to address substantive issues raised in the Monitor’s report.
In my view, the time of the South Gippsland Monitor represents a very great lost opportunity which has very deep consequences for just about everyone: both personal and community-wide in South Gippsland. The Commission has left no positive direction going forward. The Good Governance Action Plan at least recognised there was much needed to be done in Council and with the community to repair the damage caused by the ineffectual resolution of governance difficulties and problems both before, during and since the term of the Monitor; and to overcome the intense negative media campaign that has dogged council throughout. The Action Plan should be examined more thoroughly – it may well stand the test of time as a positive blueprint for the Shire going forward.
Yours faithfully,
Former Councillor Rosemary Cousin 21/6/19.”

Short URL: http://thestar.com.au/?p=29231

Posted by on Jun 28 2019. Filed under Featured. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

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