Councillors face gag over ICAC investigation

Councillors from a Sydney council at the centre of an ICAC investigation face being banned from meetings where the matter is discussed and gagged from asking questions about it at council meetings under a state government order.

Georges River Mayor Kevin Green

Local government minister Shelley Hancock on Tuesday gave Georges River Council notice of her intention to issue the performance improvement order, which requires all councillors to formally undertake  to “preserve the integrity of proper processes” regarding allegations of misconduct by council officials.

It also requires councillors to:

  • refrain from making allegations of wrongdoing against council officials at meetings and forums
  • refrain from inappropriately moving motions about the referral of allegations to other agencies
  • use proper processes for making allegations of wrongdoing
  • refrain from asking questions at council meetings about the ICAC investigation
  • not attend any council forum where the ICAC investigation is being considered.

Mayor Kevin Greene said he was disappointed but not surprised by the notice, which he blamed on the behaviour of a few councillors.

“The majority of councillors have every reason to be angry that the pattern of poor or inappropriate behaviour by certain councillors led to the minister issuing this notice,” he said in a statement on Tuesday.

He said the actions that led to the notice being issued were the direct result of the behaviour of councillors centred around ICAC’s ongoing investigation into two councillors. 

Leaked information

In March, the then deputy secretary of OLG Tim Hurst confirmed to a parliamentary committee that state’s corruption watchdog was investigating a matter relating to the Georges River.

The Committee heard that Georges River had referred to ICAC the leaking of information about a “systemic failure” to make developers pay public levies by a former constituent of the now merged Council.

In a subsequent statement to Government News Georges River Council confirmed that the leaking of confidential information had been referred to ICAC by General Manager Gail Connolly.

Council had also unanimously resolved to refer the developer contributions issue to ICAC, including “the alleged missing $4 million” and noted the work of council officers in identifying deficiencies in contribution schemes administered by the former Hurstville and Kogarah Councils.

In a statement in April Cr Greene said an audit by the merged Georges River Council in 2018 found some contributions had not been paid prior to amalgamation. Others had since been collected by Georges River Council or weren’t yet due to be paid, Cr Green said.

Ms Hancock said the Georges River community had a right to expect the highest standards of behaviour and integrity from their elected representatives,.

“We have zero tolerance for councillors failing to meet required standards of conduct, and that’s why we are taking intervention action to preserve the integrity of proper processes and enforce appropriate standards of behaviour,” she said in a statement.

Georges River has 14 days to make a submission before the minister makes a final decision about the PIO.

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