WANGARATTA councillor Julian Fidge has dodged a two-month suspension in the short term.
That will allow him to play a starring role in re-shaping the council’s contentious rural land strategy.
The Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal yesterday granted Cr Fidge a stay on his ban, imposed last week by a council conduct panel. The panel also ordered Cr Fidge to have counselling on matters contained in its damning report.
He was the only person to appear at VCAT after neither a panel member nor council representative appeared as the respondent.
Cr Fidge will remain on the council until an appeal date is set later this year.
The rural land strategy was a major election issue on which Cr Fidge, deputy mayor Paul O’Brien and Cr Noel Amery were elected last year.
Cr Fidge has taken charge of the planning and environment portfolio and will have a large input into rural land strategy.
Victorian Planning Minister Matthew Guy released the government’s final rural zone proposals last week and councillors and staff are now reading them.
Cr Fidge described his VCAT success as a victory for free speech.
“If a councillor can’t talk to people about the council matters, there is something seriously wrong,” he said.
“It was very encouraging to have someone acknowledge it as a serious issue.”
He said part of the appeal would be coming face-to-face with Cr Don Joyce and Cr Tammy Atkins, who he criticised for taking complaints against him straight to the panel and Local Government Minister, Jeanette Powell, rather than following the council’s internal procedures.
“I am disappointed it has taken until VCAT to get these councillors to sit at the table with me,” Cr Fidge said.
“I have moved heaven and earth to achieve that.
“I have tried really hard to go down the seek-resolutions pathway.”
Cr Fidge remained convinced the council would escape the axe from Mrs Powell and pointed to more serious issues within Greater Shepparton Council in the minister’s own electorate.
Cr Milvan Muto was disqualified as a councillor for four years after VCAT ruled he was guilty of gross misconduct.
“Wangaratta and Shepparton have a lot in common in that there is a councillor who is said to be troublesome,” Cr Fidge said.
“It has been found the case by VCAT in the case of Cr Muto. He has been disqualified.
“But none of that has happened at Wangaratta.”