Image for Gutwein should foot the Huon council inquiry bill, says former mayor

*Pic: Will does the honours ...

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*Pic: Anonymous sent these pics showing former deputy mayor Mike Wilson’s boat launch by the Liberals in 2013. Hodgman and Petrusma did the official duties. Anon says: ‘It was pre-election and although Giddings was Premier and a Franklin member and Bacon was Tourism Minister they were not invited. These pics or similar were published in the Huon News.’

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Pic: of Peter Gutwein, from his website

First published April 21

Peter Coad, mayor of Huon Valley Council until it was sacked last October, is calling for a parliamentary inquiry into the council’s “debacle”.

He also believes that the Tasmanian Government should foot the bill for the costs of the board of inquiry into HVC that Local Government Minister Peter Gutwein established in September 2015.

In response to recent media articles indicating that Huon Valley and Glenorchy councils are likely to be ordered to pay the costs of inquiries into their councils, Mr Coad said: “The minister for local government and the then director of local government were directly involved in the causation of the Huon Valley Council board of inquiry.”

Mr Coad said that, in his role as a councillor, he met with Mr Gutwein and Premier Will Hodgman at a prearranged meeting in Hobart in June 2015, at which he raised concerns about the governance of the council.

“That meeting,” he said, “was supposed to be confidential. However, the minister responded to the points I had raised in confidence by replying to me via the general manager, who was central to the issues that had been discussed at our meeting.

“I don’t believe this misdirection of correspondence, which should have been addressed directly to me, was a mistake on the part of the minister. It certainly led to serious disruption within the council.”

The consequence, Mr Coad said, was a formal complaint, by the GM against the mayor, that was never dealt with because of the appointment soon afterwards of the board of inquiry.

“I believe that both the minister and the then director of local government should have known that, by sending the minister’s written response to me via HVC management, it would have caused serious problems for the mayor and council.”

After his “confidential” meeting with Mr Gutwein and the premier, said Mr Coad, “the minister advised me, in August 2015, that he would not order a board of inquiry — yet soon afterwards he announced an inquiry into the council”.

Mr Coad said: “Mr Gutwein rejected my request for an inquiry — yet he agreed four weeks later with someone else’s request. The question is: from whom did that request come?

“Then, after Mr Gutwein ordered the inquiry, he called in parliament for me to resign without offering any justification for his statement.

“I was not alone among councillors who did not agree with the process the minister had put in place to achieve his ministerial directions, yet he did not call for any other councillor to resign.”

Mr Coad said that a situation had developed where “the minister was playing very serious political games” with a democratically elected mayor”.

“Later, after the board of inquiry had produced a draft report,” said Mr Coad, “the minister was clearly supportive of the still-secret Page Seager report — commissioned without the mayor’s knowledge — which called for the removal of him as mayor. What were the minister’s real motivations? The Page Seager report, which cost council some $54,000, was commissioned by management to respond to the interim findings of the Gutwein inquiry, which, it should be noted, did not recommend removal of the mayor.”

Arguing that that the board of inquiry into HVC was of Mr Gutwein’s and the Local Government Division’s making, Mr Coad said: “The Huon Valley Council should not have to pay any of the costs of the board of inquiry until a parliamentary inquiry is conducted into the actions of the minister and his then director of local government as to their personal involvement.

“Both the minister and the director were part of the problem, and the State Government should recognise this in considering who should pay the costs of the inquiry — which I understand are estimated at $336,000.”

Mr Coad said he would welcome, and fully co-operate with, a parliamentary inquiry, to which he was prepared to provide a full range of information and documentation.

“The State Government,” he said, “should be serious about being open and transparent about what truly occurred in the Huon Valley Council debacle. And it should be prepared to support an inquiry.”

• Duncan Mills in Comments: As a ratepayer and resident and a social ecologist, I am appalled that so many in the community think its ok to play the system to the the benefit of themselves and their own supporters …

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