Western Sydney’s Auburn Council continues to attract unwelcome publicity through the antics of Deputy Mayor Salim Mehajer and his supporters. Now his behaviour could be the catalyst for changes to the way NSW councils conduct their affairs.
Auburn Council was the subject of a report on ABC’s 7:30 Report on Wednesday 23 September. It was that report that seems to have prompted the remarks from NSW Premier Mike Baird.
“The local government minister is already considering events at Auburn Council,” ABC Radio reported Mr Baird as saying. “What you’re seeing there is a good example on why we need reform in local councils.
“I think there’s a number of things in terms of the governance of some councils that are undoubtedly a worry, but what we are going to do is we are going to reform the entire sector and we’re going to do it with the interests of the ratepayers at heart.”
Mr Mehajer achieved national notoriety in August with his lavish wedding, which saw streets around the ceremony venue illegally blocked. Helicopters and a fleet of stretch limousines brought guests to the function. He was subsequently fined – by the council of which he is a member – a grand total of $220 for the street closure.
The magnitude of the fine is unlikely to worry Mr Mehajer. The 29 year old property developer is the scion of one of the wealthiest families in the area, but one not without notoriety. An online change.org petition against him has attracted nearly 10,000 supporters.
“Auburn Council has demonstrated complete ignorance of the community by re-electing Salim Mehajer as deputy mayor,” says the petition. ”Auburn Councillors have stuck their fingers up at the community.
“We also condemn the intimidating behaviour of the Mehajer supporters and repeat our calls on the State Government to intervene to resolve this situation urgently by sacking Salim Mehajer from Auburn Council.”
The ‘intimidating behaviour’ refers to a recent incident when council voted on a development proposal in Berala which involved Mr Mehajer’s property company, when a group of supporters, including what the ABC said included a group of “muscular, heavily tattooed men,” cheered and clapped when councillors supporting the proposal spoke. When councillors opposing the proposal spoke, they jeered, according to the ABC report.’
The Daily Telegraph ran a ‘ten things about Salim Mehajer‘ list in its 17 August edition which included such gems as:
- Last year the Supreme Court suspended his council salary for three months after he was reprimanded for failing to disclose the extent of his business interests.
- In 2012 he hit two pedestrians when he lost control of his $500,000 Ferrari, before crashing into a brick wall. He was convicted of negligent driving but was acquitted on appeal. He then took an ad (see illustration) in the local paper gloating over his acquittal.
- He has missed a deadline to declare political donations, but the Election Funding Authority did not make any finding against him.
- An unoccupied house he owned in Lidcombe burnt down last year.
- His father Mohamad Mehajer was recently released from jail after serving more than three years for conspiring to defraud the National Australia Bank of $3 million.
This week Mehajer was re-elected Deputy Mayor by his fellow councillors, winning after his name was drawn by ballot after a tie. The loser, ALP councillor George Campbell said “God has forsaken Auburn,” and that councillors had demonstrated they were not listening the community about concerns over Mr Mehajer’s behaviour.
NSW Local Government Minister Paul Toole is now investigating Auburn Council. He is a busy man – he suspended Hurstville council just last week. Neither Mr Baird nor Mr Toole has indicated what changes they may be considering as a result of Mr Mehajer’s excesses.
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