Council’s Code of Conduct used to stifle public interest

Newcastle Greens Councillor Michael Osborne criticised abuse of the council Code of Conduct “as a mechanism to stifle democratic participation and debate”.

Councillor Osborne said he had received an official notification of a formal complaint against him for allegedly breaching the council’s Code of Conduct for his “involvement in a protest”.

Clr Osborne was involved in a protest action last year that involved a ‘sit-in’ on a railway line with other climate change activists.

That protest took place within a well-established framework and tradition of civil disobedience, and it was dealt with through the legal system,” Clr Osborne said.

The right to protest has been fundamental to achieving many of the other rights and privileges we enjoy today, and is a basic democratic right of every Australian citizen.

It’s unfortunate that council’s Code of Conduct – which was primarily intended to prevent corruption and to deal with things like conflicts of interests and councillors receiving gifts and benefits from vested interests – is now being abused as an instrument of repression.

Unfortunately, this kind of abuse is similar to other forms of SLAPPs (strategic lawsuits against public participation) in which legal action is taken (usually by or on behalf of vested interests) with the purpose of preventing or intimidating people from participating in public interest protests.”

Clr Osborne said that the official notification from the General Manager did not state which part of the council’s code his involvement in the protest is alleged to have breached, and he has not yet been provided with a copy of the complaint itself.

He has sought further information about the complaint, and the procedure to be followed.