Review request from Logan City Council interim administrator Tamara O’Shea 19/2/20
On 19 February 2020, the Office of the ICEO received an email with screenshots of a Facebook post, followed by, on 20 February 2020, a formal review request, from the Interim Administrator of the Logan City Council, Ms Tamara O’Shea. The Council had been dissolved by Parliament in May 2019 and Ms O’Shea was appointed interim administrator pending the quadrennial election to be held on 28 March 2020. As a matter of law, Ms O’Shea stands in the place of the dissolved Council and has standing under the charter of the ICEO to make a review request.
The attachments to Ms O’Shea’s emails were two screenshots comprising one post from the Paul Taylor 4 Logan Mayor 2020 Facebook page dated 12 February 2020. The post features a photo of Mr Taylor inset into a picture of a campaign poster or sign headed, “Corruption lives where there is poor leadership.” Mr Taylor is seeking election as Mayor of the Council in the up-coming election. The text accompanying the picture in the post reads:
“ DON'T BE FOOLED into thinking that the unprofessional conduct that we saw from the previous Logan City Council can only be found amongst the dismissed Councillors and Mayor.
The rot goes a lot deeper than that!
Logan is about to elect a new Council however, will these representatives have the guts to expose any questionable dealings by committee members or staffers?
I DO and that's why in this election my opponents and their faceless political power-brokers, with their developer mates, will stop at nothing to discredit me. They don't want to see me elected because they know that the gravy train will stop and those who do the wrong thing, will be held to account.
During my campaign, I have already been given information regarding dealings which I personally deem as corrupt behaviour. This is totally unacceptable and has been allowed to fester due to the poor leadership by some of our previous elected representatives.
We cannot afford to have another Council put into administration.
Elect me as your Mayor on 28th March and I will see that this kind of behaviour is stopped immediately.”
In her email, Ms O’Shea complains that the posts imply corruption within the Council Administration, which she alleges is false and misleading and which has the tendency to undermine confidence in the present administration and, by extension, Council staff; and has the tendency to mislead voters and thereby undermine the proper democratic process for the election.
My team accessed the recorded proceedings in State Parliament for 2 May 2019, the day on which a motion was passed by the House with bi-partisan support which lead to the dissolution of the Council and the appointment of Ms O’Shea. I have also reviewed some media reports from that time and a media alert from the CCC.
A fair reading of the proceedings in State Parliament on that day do not support any suggestion that there was systemic corruption in the Council at the time or that was the reason behind the motion to dissolve the Council and appoint Ms O’Shea. In summary, the Hansard record reveals that Council was dissolved because, as then constituted, it did not have a quorum to make decisions including passing the annual budget.
The Minister for Local Government, who moved the motion to dissolve Council and appoint an interim administrator, referred to the fact that, as at 2 May 2019, nine Councillors had been charged with integrity or serious integrity offences which, under amendments to the Local Government Electoral Act assented to on 21 May 2018, meant that all nine were automatically suspended, and only four Councillors remained which did not enable the Council to function.
As Hansard further reveals, the Mayor was charged with official corruption and other serious charges and another Councillor had been charged with stealing as a servant. On 26 April 2019, eight Councillors including the Mayor were charged with one count of fraud pursuant to s. 408C(1)(e)(2A) of the Criminal Code. The Mayor was also charged with another integrity offence on that day. The charges involving the seven additional Councillors relate to an allegation that they dishonestly caused a pecuniary detriment by agreeing to sack the former CEO and it was alleged that, as a result, she has lost over $100,000 in future earnings.
In speaking in support of the motion on 2 May 2019, the Minister indicated that he intended to appoint the remaining four Councillors to an interim management Committee to assist Ms O’Shea, as none had been accused of any wrong-doing and have not been since that time. In relation to those four people (Lisa Bradley, Laurie Koranski, John Raven and Darren Power) the Minister said (at 1442 of Hansard):
“Unlike at Ipswich City Council, where councillors who were not charged with offences seemingly looked the other way when faced with questionable practices, these four councillors at Logan actively called out the poor governance and integrity practices of the now suspended mayor and councillors. Mr MacSporran confirms that it is appropriate that these four councillors should be given the opportunity to continue to represent their community and should not be penalised with lost remuneration."
A number of these people are seeking re-election in the up-coming election. The ECQ website on 2 March 2020 revealed Mr Power has nominated for Mayor, Ms Bradley for Division 1, Ms Koranski for Division 4 and Mr Raven for Division 5.
In supporting the motion on 2 May 2019, the LNP Member for Warrego (and Shadow Minister for Local Government) said (at 1443) :
"It is important to place on the record that the situation that has occurred at Logan is somewhat different to the earlier situation we saw at Ipswich and it is not as a result of systemic corruption. The parliament today is ending uncertainty for the non-suspended councillors as well as the ratepayers and residents of Logan."
On 25 February 2020 the Office of the ICEO emailed Mr Taylor enclosing Ms O’Shea’s request email with attachments and copies of the relevant extracts from Hansard from 2 May 2019 and copies of a number of media articles from that time. In part, the email to Mr Taylor stated:
"As the ICEO perceives the request of Ms O’Shea, there are a number of aspects of your alleged posts which she says are misleading. Firstly, the evidence (primarily from the Hansard reports and media coverage at the time) suggests that, unlike the Ipswich City Council, the CCC inquiry into the Logan City Council did not find “systemic corruption”. As you will note, all but one of the suspended Councillors was suspended because she or he was charged by the CCC with an “integrity offence” which involved aggravated fraud relating to the former CEO of the Council. As we understand it, Ms O’Shea therefore contends that is misleading for you to imply corruption going beyond the actions of the suspended Councillors and reflecting badly on the staff.
“Secondly, she alleges that your posts imply that there was corrupt behaviour by unknown people in Council which inferentially was not detected by the CCC in its extensive inquiry. As you may be aware, the Chair of the CCC has said publicly on a number of occasions, that allegations of corruption within bodies such as a local government, should be reported to the CCC before making public such allegations. In one of your posts you say that you have been given information which (you) personally “deem as corrupt behaviour”; and in another you seem to imply that corruption goes beyond the Councillors who have been charged and suspended."
Mr Taylor was asked to respond by close of business on 28 February 2020. The email was not returned as being undeliverable. He was asked to provide my office with any links or other information in support of his position. He has not responded. Mr Taylor is not obliged to respond and no adverse inference will be drawn against him for that.
I am conscious that in publishing this decision on-line that all former Councillors including the Mayor, who are facing serious charges, are entitled to the presumption of innocence – that is, they are presumed innocent until their guilt is proved beyond a reasonable doubt.
I uphold Ms O’Shea’s request. In my opinion, Mr Taylor is implying in the post that there is or was systemic and on-going corruption in the Council administration and/or there has been corruption in the past, that is, before 2 May 2019, which has not been detected by the intense investigation conducted by the CCC. By so implying, Mr Taylor unfairly and unjustly reflects not only on the present administration but also on Council staff and the four Councillors who have never been accused of any wrongdoing. His Facebook post, which has received many comments, and which has been shared 20 times, has the real tendency to mislead voters in the election and to undermine the democratic process in an unfair way. His comments in his 12 February 2020 Facebook post are more serious, in my opinion, because he is running for election in what is arguably the most important position in any Council.