Passing “extraordinary” legislation to sack the Ipswich City Council without the right of appeal is warranted by extreme circumstances, the head of the Crime and Corruption Commission (CCC) has told a Queensland parliamentary hearing.
Public hearings were held in Ipswich and Brisbane on Monday for views to be expressed before the proposed legislation goes before State Parliament next month.
The Council for Civil Liberties, the Law Society, the Local Government Association and Ipswich councillors have all condemned the laws.
Those groups said the draft legislation denied councillors the presumption of innocence, natural justice, procedural fairness and the right to seek a review or appeal.
But on Monday afternoon, CCC chairman Alan MacSporran said while he understood that view, the plight of Ipswich residents was a far more serious issue to be considered by State Parliament.
“All of that’s well and good but it doesn’t address the fundamental question of the public interest in the government of the Ipswich City Council and the community of Ipswich being governed by that council,” Mr MacSporran said.
“I do accept, as I think everyone does, that this is a rather extraordinary situation we find ourselves in and … there are cases where extraordinary measures like these are entirely warranted.
“Whether you accept the allegations against these people or not is not the point — there’s a clear failure of public confidence.
Former Ipswich mayors Andrew Antoniolli (L) and Paul Pisasale have both been charged by the CCC. (ABC/AAP)
“That’s what’s sought to be addressed here, and if this measure is the only way that can be done swiftly and to protect the people of Ipswich, well that’s why I support it.”
Mr MacSporran pointed to a New South Wales precedent where the state’s Independent Commission Against Corruption recommended removing the right of appeal in one case.
“In circumstances as extreme as these the process can be as serious as an enactment by parliament to achieve the result without a right of review,” he said.
“The proper place for the debate to decide the pros and cons of the legislation is in the parliament.”
Greg Hallam from the Local Government Association of Queensland urged the committee scrutinising the legislation to make amendments to financially compensate some dismissed councillors.
“To restore some sense of fairness for those councillors not facing any charges — an amendment to the draft bill which stipulates the making of a separation payment for the 10 councillors who are not subject to any charges, consistent with the severance arrangements for members of parliament,” Mr Hallam recommended.
“Secondly the removal from the draft bill of the provisions which prevent these 10 councillors from nominating as a candidate for any by-elections that may be held in other local government areas between now and the 2020 elections.”
‘The people of Ipswich should decide’
The Queensland Law Society (QLS) and Queensland Council for Civil Liberties (QCCL) had been critical of the Government’s proposed bill in their submissions sent to the inquiry before today’s hearings.
QCCL spokesman Michael Cope told the Ipswich hearing the principle of being considered innocent until proven guilty should be respected.
“Just because they’re sitting on a council, they don’t lose those rights,” Mr Cope said.
“If there were allegations of corruption against them as individuals, presumably they would have been charged by now.
“The people of Ipswich should be trusted to decide which of these councillors should be replaced and which should not.
“They’re elected and the people of Ipswich shouldn’t be deprived of the opportunity to decide who should be running their council for a period of two years.”
The QLS also expressed its anger, arguing the proposal “excludes judicial review and appeal”.
In its submission, the QLS also expressed concern “no election will be held until the next council elections in 2020”.
QLS president Ken Taylor said it was “about due process and the rule of law”.
‘Desperate political agenda’
Acting Ipswich Mayor Wayne Wendt told the Ipswich hearing this morning it was an “unprecedented abuse of parliamentary process and an outright denial of equity under the Queensland law”.
“It is ironic, and sadly almost comical, that those who have been charged in connection to the investigation today have been afforded more rights under the law than the innocent elected representatives of the city I lead,” Cr Wendt said.
He said it “rocks the very foundations of our legal and parliamentary systems”.
The proposed legislation goes before State Parliament next month. (ABC News: Melanie Vujkovic)
“It is a desperate political agenda to rewrite Queensland laws before any of the matters have been tested before a jury instructed by a judge,” he said.
“Yet the Minister has taken it upon himself to act as judge, jury and executioner, before the natural justice can have a remote chance of being afforded.”
Despite the critical submissions, State Development Minister Cameron Dick said Cabinet and the Government remained strong in their resolve to change the “culture” in Ipswich.
“We’ve made it very clear that there needs to be a change in Ipswich and my view is that we are supported by the community,” Mr Dick said.
“They want a change, we need to change what’s happening in that city and we will when we return to Parliament [next month].
Mayors charged with fraud
In May, Local Government Minister Stirling Hinchliffe announced the Government would take steps to sack the entire Ipswich council, hours after Mayor Andrew Antoniolli said he was standing down after being charged with fraud by Queensland’s Crime and Corruption Commission (CCC).
He is facing seven counts of fraud for allegedly using council money to purchase auction items from charitable organisations over the past six years.
Cr Antoniolli said the decision to stand down was in the best interest of the city and his family.
He is the second Ipswich mayor to be charged by the CCC, with Paul Pisasale still to face court on charges of corruption, extortion, fraud, perjury and attempting to pervert the course of justice.
The alleged offences are not believed to be related.
After Mr Pisasale resigned as mayor last year, Cr Antoniolli took over the job in August, declaring he had a 19-point plan to ensure transparency and good governance.