Wangaratta Council exposed | It’s all about free speech, says Fidge

Julian Fidge

Julian Fidge

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Julian Fidge takes the stand

FORMER Wangaratta councillor Julian Fidge will find out in mid-October if he has been successful in beating misconduct charges brought against him by a councillor conduct panel almost 12 months ago.

Dr Fidge’s appeal to the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal before senior member Ian Proctor wound up yesterday.

An extra day was required for the hearing, which concluded with final submissions to Mr Proctor after Dr Fidge’s legal team elected not to call former deputy mayor Paul O’Brien as a witness.

In his closing address, Dr Fidge’s legal counsel Suresh Senathirajah said the importance of freedom of speech could not be underestimated.

“It is what Dr Fidge is about and why he is here,” he said.

“He doesn’t need this, but is doing it because he thinks it is right.

“He had factual basis for his criticisms.

“It is not misconduct.”

Mr Senathirajah said publicly paid officials, including council chief executive officers, were not above criticism.

He cited the repeated criticisms directed at the head of the government-funded Australian Competition and Consumer Commission, Graeme Samuel, as an example.

“People charged with carrying out council policies should be held up to public scrutiny,” he said.

“They aren’t elected representatives, but the office they hold is public office.

“Politics is robust, direct and confrontational.

“No less local politics.”

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