Minister rules out ‘judicial’ inquiry

Should the 13 suspended councillors be allowed to return to duties at the end of April until the September election?

With a decision on the future of Central Coast Council expected to be handed down within days, Local Government Minister, Shelley Hancock, has ruled out a judicial inquiry into the Council’s financial woes.

A period of administration was instituted by Hancock last October for a three-month period following revelations of Council’s dire financial situation and was subsequently extended by another three months.

She suspended the 13 councillors (Councillors Troy Marquart and Rebecca Gale having resigned days earlier) and appointed Administrator Dick Persson.

The period of administration ends on April 29, with Hancock to decide on what happens next prior to that date.

Hancock said ordering a judicial inquiry, as requested in an e-petition signed by more than 20,000 residents and tabled in Parliament, was not an action available to her.

“Under the Local Government Act 1993 I can only appoint a person or persons as commissioners to hold a public inquiry into a council,” she said.

Her other option is to return the suspended councillors, with an election to follow on September 4.

A public inquiry is the option favoured by Member for Terrigal, Adam Crouch, who said he was “100 per cent opposed” to suspended councillors being allowed to return and “wreak more havoc”.

“Under the Local Government Act, the only option to prevent the councillors from returning is for the Minister to establish a public inquiry,” Crouch said.

He presented a petition with 5,293 local signatures, calling for a public inquiry to the Minister on April 22.

Administrator, Dick Persson has also made it clear he does not support the return of the councillors.

And a recent survey by Coast Community News which closed on April 19 and attracted just under 500 responses. overwhelmingly shows the community do not want to see the councillors returned either.

When asked if the 13 suspended councillors should be allowed to return to duties at the end of April until the September local government elections, 90.6 per cent of respondents said no, 8.8 per cent said yes and the rest were undecided.

Hancock said the NSW Government will determine the Council’s future based on expert advice and consideration of the Administrator’s final report, his two previous reports, the views of the local community and expert advice from the Office of Local Government.

Terry Collins