Councillor Kath Elliott (Newcastle Independents) has been suspended for six weeks for leaking an investigative report to the media detailing confidential code of conduct complaints against her.
NovoNews received a media release this morning from Labor councillors detailing an order issued on October 8, 2021, by the NSW Government’s Office of Local Government (OLG).
The OLG confirmed that it had suspended Cr Elliott from Newcastle City Council after finding that she had engaged in “deliberate misconduct” and had “fallen short of the standards expected of councillors”.
Cr Elliott, who represents Ward 2, was recently announced as the Newcastle Independents’ candidate for Ward 4 in the Local Government Election on December 4, replacing controversial councillor Allan Robinson. The period of suspension is due to end just days before the election.
Cr Elliott told NovoNews this morning she believed there were “administrative errors in the judgment” of the suspension, and she would “be appealing through the Administrative Appeals Tribunal based on these errors”.
OLG Coordinator General Kiersten Fishburn found Cr Elliott had intentionally provided the following to the media: confidential details of at least 12 code of conduct complaints with Cr Elliott being the subject of the complaints; excerpts of transcripts of interviews of identified individuals; her own submissions in relation to a number of code of conduct complaints; and information that identified the individuals who made the complaints.
“Clr Elliott has had code of conduct training on three occasions and would therefore be expected to fully understand the standards of behaviour that are required of her,” Fishburn’s statement read.
“Instead, in her (Elliott’s) submission, she stated that she had the right to provide the information to the media in order to defend herself, even if her conduct was contrary to the Code.
“The [reprimand and suspension] penalty reflects the seriousness of the matter, the failure by Clr Elliott to acknowledge that her behaviour undermined the Code [of Conduct] and the reputation of council, and the fact that the breach was done knowingly.”
The six-week suspension is only the third to be imposed on any NSW councillor during this current term.
Ward 2 Councillor Carol Duncan confirmed in Labor’s media release today that Cr Elliott had engaged a solicitor to threaten Cr Duncan with defamation in April 2020.
“In September 2019, I was asked to provide evidence to an independent investigator appointed for a confidential Code of Conduct complaint related to Cr Elliott,” Cr Duncan said.
“An article appeared in the Newcastle Herald on 28 April 2020 that identified me and extracts from my confidential interview with the investigator. An editorial was also published by the Newcastle Herald on the topic on the same day.
“Coincidentally, at 4.33pm on 28 April 2020, that same day, I received an email from solicitors representing Ms Elliott containing a letter referring to the Herald article and threatening defamation action as well as insinuating that I leaked the confidential report.”
Cr Duncan stated that at the time, she “did not know who leaked the confidential report to the media” and said the published article had given some people the impression that she had leaked the document.
“In suspending Ms Elliott, the OLG made it clear that it was Ms Elliott who leaked the confidential report to the Newcastle Herald,” Cr Duncan said.
Deputy Lord Mayor Declan Clausen said it was a “beggars belief that she (Elliott) would still be seeking re-election to council with the full support of John Church and the Newcastle Independents party whilst suspended for misconduct”.
Independent candidate for Lord Mayor and Ward 1 Councillor John Church told NovoNews that Cr Elliott had his full support.
“Kath has my full support as our Ward 4 candidate and will use the time to campaign hard for re-election on a platform of open and transparent government and no party politics,” Cr Church said.
“Cr Elliott has long campaigned to improve accountability and transparency at Newcastle Council.
“She believes the community has a right to know how people’s rates are being spent and whether residents are getting value for money.
“She successfully campaigned to uncover the multimillion-dollar overspend on the fit-out of the new admin building, which council resisted releasing for more than 18 months.
“Her dogged and persistent pursuit of transparency compares with council’s track record over the past four years.
“I have concerns that the frequent engagement of the code-of-conduct process can serve to limit healthy and robust debate.
“Questions need to be asked why the investigation took more than 15 months, and the findings have only now been released, just weeks before the Local Government Election.”