Pushing the envelope: Sophie urges Wangaratta council clean-up

HAND-WRITTEN notes from member for Indi Sophie Mirabella to four Wangaratta councillors after their election last year referred to a “protection racket” at the council and called for a clean-up.

Mrs Mirabella sent a standard congratulatory letter to Wangaratta mayor Rozi Parisotto and three newly elected councillors and wrote personal messages on each.

The inflammatory notes were at the bottom of typewritten letters on Mrs Mirabella’s federal parliamentary letterhead. They were written in the days after the October local government elections, which resulted in a major shake-up in the Wangaratta Council.

Ms Parisotto, who became mayor with the support of newly elected councillors Julian Fidge, Paul O’Brien and Noel Amery, was congratulated on “an enormous achievement years in the making”.

“It may take a while, but when good triumphs over evil it makes it all worthwhile,” the note says.

Cr O’Brien was told in his letter from Mrs Mirabella that a “team effort proved a protection racket could be challenged” and “now to expose it!”.

Cr Fidge and Cr Amery were also praised and told, “now for the clean-up”.

Mrs Mirabella said last night she didn’t endorse the four councillors 

before last year’s election, but she did back their stance on the council’s controversial rural land use strategy.

“I was opposed to the rural land strategy well before councillors made themselves known they were going to run,” she said.

“I am pleased democracy prevailed with the election of a team of new councillors opposed to a flawed strategy.

“I would hope the newly elected councillors abide by their election commitments and listen to ratepayers.”

Mrs Mirabella agreed some of the language used in the letters was “colourful” but it reflected her staunch opposition to the strategy that is under review as a result of the changes to the council.

“It is colourful language that goes to the heart of a lot of the complaints people came to me about,” she said.

“I try not to fob things off.

“My job is to be engaged with my local community.”

Mrs Mirabella said her office wrote letters of congratulations to many councillors in her electorate.

Mayor Parisotto couldn’t be contacted for comment yesterday.

Cr Fidge rejected Mrs Mirabella had been involved in his campaign.

“I took it as a general remark about cleaning up the mess the last council had left,” Cr Fidge said.

“I reject any suggestion Sophie Mirabella aided my election in any way.”

Cr O’Brien recalled receiving a “multitude of letters” but he had no memory of the one he supposedly received from Mrs Mirabella.

“I would recall something like that,” he said.

“I am only guessing someone is playing games, but I can’t help you. It is news to me.”

The council’s meetings have been unpredictable and controversial since the election.

At Friday’s meeting, Cr Fidge, Cr Amery and Cr O’Brien opposed the council providing $3.8 million for a car park as part of the Co-Store redevelopment. Cr Parisotto used her casting vote to ensure the project went ahead.

But at the previous meeting, she had backed the three new councillors to prevent the council executive, led by chief executive Doug Sharp, appointing consultants for the next 12 months.

Sophie Mirabella.

Sophie Mirabella.