Failed Wangaratta Council candidate Julian Fidge to take ‘invalid’ election claim to VCAT

George Dimopoulos, Julian Fidge and Ashlee Fitzpatrick on the day election countback results were announced in November.
George Dimopoulos, Julian Fidge and Ashlee Fitzpatrick on the day election countback results were announced in November.

Former Wangaratta councillor Julian Fidge will claim an election countback breached his human rights, in a bid to be re-elected to a position on the council.

Dr Fidge has lodged his reasons with the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal, asking for the case to be referred to the Supreme Court to make a decision which would change the way election countbacks are conducted across Victoria.

Cr Ruth Amery died suddenly in October 2017, leaving a vacancy on the council.

Under Victorian electoral rules, the 1971 ballot papers that contributed to her election, including the 920 first-preference and 1021 other votes, were reallocated to determine her replacement.

This led to the election of Cr Ashlee Fitzpatrick.

But Dr Fidge claims all the ballot papers should be recounted.

Julian Fidge

Julian Fidge

In documents submitted to the court by counsel Marion Isobel, she argued the election process itself was invalid.

“The applicant had been subject to an area of significant unfairness in the Local Government Act,” court documents state.

“A process by which 75 per cent of votes can be disregarded is not democratic, it disenfranchises the majority of the electorate, it does not reflect the will of the electorate.

“It can lead to skewed results, wherein a candidate who received significantly fewer votes than another candidate can be elected.”

To be successful, Dr Fidge would need VCAT to refer the case up the Supreme Court, then have the Supreme Court rule the legislation was invalid.

His submission questioned if the Local Government Act, allowing election countbacks based on the votes of just one departing councillor, was compatible with the Victorian Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities.

“The applicant ultimately wishes for VCAT to declare that he was duly elected, and he may be able to take up a position as a councillor with the Wangaratta Council,” Ms Isobel stated.

Dr Fidge previously served as a Wangaratta councillor until 2013 when the entire council was sacked by the Victorian government.

He was reprimanded in 2015 after VCAT upheld 14 misconduct breaches against him over his time on the council, which mainly centred on his strained relationship with senior staff.