Little hope for inquiry into Wangaratta council

Paul O'Brien
Paul O'Brien

FORMER Wangaratta deputy mayor Paul O’Brien is close to conceding his bid for an Ombudsman inquiry into the dismissed council has failed.

Mr O’Brien and immediate past mayor Rozi Parisotto lodged complaints with the ombudsman about Local Government Minister Jeanette Powell’s decision to sack the council last September.

The complaints were lodged a month after Mrs Powell introduced a special Bill into the Victorian Parliament to dismiss the council which was given bi-partisan support by the opposition Labor Party.

Mr O’Brien was notified in mid-December of the reluctance of the ombudsman, George Brouwer, to conduct an inquiry.

But in a follow-up phone call last week, the ombudsman’s office was prepared to re-consider.

Mr O’Brien is prepared to have a face-to-face interview with ombudsman staff to convince them of the need for a probe.

“I think it is pretty close to being over,” he said.

“It doesn’t look promising.

“The thing that irks me is natural justice clearly wasn’t provided.

“The question remains 'where do I go to get natural justice if I can’t from the ombudsman?'

“It is actually pretty disappointing because the legal advice I got was a lot of the reasons why we got dismissed were based on opinion and not fact.”

The minister claimed the council had failed to provide a safe workplace and allowed a culture of bullying and intimidatory behaviour grow.

Mrs Powell has subsequently announced increased powers for mayors to curb unruly councillors in such situations.

The ombudsman has conducted recent inquiries at Brimbank, the previous Victorian council to Wangaratta to get sacked, Darebin as well as Glen Eira.

Mr O’Brien remains incensed Mrs Powell didn’t provide the former council with a “show cause notice” and extend the right of reply to the recommended outcome of dismissal put forward by her municipal inspector, Peter Stephenson.

The letter he received from the ombudsman office in mid-December stated: “I do not believe inquiries by the ombudsman into the council’s dismissal would result in any practical outcome in these circumstances.”