Sack council: Commissioner gives his reasons

THE COMMISSIONER: Last Friday I raised with the relevant parties here whether I should exercise my discretion pursuant to section 74(c)(1) of this legislation which I will read out which provides that: "The Commission is authorised to include in a report under section 74 a recommendation that consideration be given to the making of a proclamation under the Local Government Act that all civic officers in relation to a Local Government authority be declared vacant if the Commission is of the opinion that systemic corruption exists within that Local Government authority."As Mr Neil has reminded me, there are three matters that I must take into account. First of all, I must of course have an opinion concerning systemic corruption and I must also take into account, I think, the provisions of section 74(c)(4) which means that I think that prompt action should be taken and he also reminds me that the section 74(c) is in effect written in the present tense.He has put to me a number of submissions for my consideration as to whether I should make a recommendation and they include the following. He says I should have regard to the fact that 13 elected councillors presently constitute the council of which seven belong, I think, to the Labor Party, of which four of whom have been giving evidence before this Commission concerning their conduct.He says that I should take into account that of those four, four of them have voluntarily stepped aside although they still maintain their entitlements including access to the offices of the council and he also asked me to take into account that one of them has said that a separate witness has departed from the practice of voting in the caucus so that in effect four people can determine what 13 people have decided if the caucus suggests that is so. Although as I understand the evidence, that is the evidence of Mr Jonovski, it has not been gone into in any greater detail. I have also been asked to take into account, which I do, that the term expires on 27 September 08 but I am not sure entirely what the relevance of this is. It is said that if there were a bi-election between now and then it could cost the council upward of $1 million. I think I have to say two things about that. One is I'm not sure that it necessarily follows that a bi-election would follow the making of a recommendation which I am asked to make or I'm thinking of making. Secondly, the next explanation is well, so what?I think I should make it clear that section 74, in my opinion, does not require, and I do not make a finding that I think anybody should think I've made that if a finding that considering ought to be given to making of the proclamation that there is a finding or a suspicion, I should say, of this Commission that involves every person who is an elected councillor of that council. It does not and indeed we've only been privy to the behaviour of four of those people and it is, as both parties assisting and opposing have been at pains to point out, it is the conduct of those parties and their conduct with members of the public that would justify the making of this proclamation if anything did.I have come to the conclusion on all the information before me it is appropriate to make this declaration or this recommendation and I do so. I remind people here that me making this recommendation does not constitute the removal from office of these councillors. It just simply means that it's up to then the government to consider what I've done and determine whether it will make a move any further forward.I have taken account of the fact, as I have said, that I have heard and listened in detail to the conduct of four of these councillors and I've come to the conclusion that their conduct makes it clear that systemic corruption exists presently in the council. I have not ignored the fact that they have stepped down. They can also step up. I don't know how the government may wish to deal with this matter. They may wish to do something that will preclude the need for vacation of civic offices as to how the might deal with those councillors. I make no comment about that.All I'm doing at the present time is expressing the view that the civic officers, the recommendation is that a proclamation be made that civic offices of the Wollongong City Council be declared vacant because I'm of the opinion that systemic corruption exists within that authority. How that is treated by the people who will make the final decision is a matter for them. At the present time, that is the recommendation that I make and I will record this, that I will be preparing, or the Commission will be preparing, in due course a report.Part 1 of that report will deal with this aspect of the matter and the reasons that I have given here today will be included in that part 1 but because of the way we have to deal with this inquiries here, if I left the making of this recommendation until the report was out, it'd be at least another two months before it could have got around to doing it. So I've taken the view this is the appropriate way to deal with the matter and hence I've acted as I have.