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Toxic times as council discredits dissent

The Bugle App

Lynne Strong

09 July 2024, 12:30 AM

Toxic times as council discredits dissent

There is an ongoing campaign by our council to discredit dissenting voices, and this trend is deeply concerning for several reasons.

Firstly, the message being sent to potential candidates for the September 14 elections is clear: ‘you either toe the line or face significant repercussions’. This creates an environment where genuine debate and diverse perspectives are stifled, undermining the foundation of democratic government.

Secondly, those who stand up and question the status quo, find themselves in precarious situations. They are forced to spend considerable amounts of money defending their reputations and integrity. Such tactics discourage capable people from running for office, depriving our community of fresh ideas and robust representation.

Councillor Karen Renkema-Lang’s recent experience exemplifies this pattern. She has faced baseless allegations and an ICAC referral that may have been politically motivated. Her situation underscores the dangers of using referrals as a weapon to silence dissent.

Anthony Whealy KC, Chair of the Centre for Public Integrity, criticised the handling of the censure investigation. He pointed out that councillors were not informed about the investigator’s conflict of interest, which tainted the entire report.

"It does strike me as foolish that that matter wasn't drawn to the council's attention when it came to consider the report and whether it should approve the censure motion," Whealy said. He said the censure motion was "an ill-considered measure to silence a dissenting councillor."

Moreover, during a recent extraordinary meeting, Clr Renkema-Lang’s attempt to update the council’s long-term financial plan was defeated, despite its focus on reducing reliance on asset divestment.

The proposal, which sought to ensure sustainable financial management, was supported by only two other councillors, both are now potentially subject to ICAC inquiries. The rejection of such a sensible amendment raises questions about the council’s commitment to financial prudence.

The council’s projection of a $5.4m operating deficit for 2024-25 and the plan to sell additional blocks on Attunga Street and Iluka Street to improve cash flow, further highlight the urgency of having diverse and independent voices in our council.

As the election approaches, it is crucial for our community to think about the kind of leadership we want.

We must support candidates who prioritise transparency, accountability, and constructive debate. Only by doing so can we ensure that our council serves the best interests of all its constituents, rather than a select few.

The current campaign against dissenting voices is not just a disservice to those individuals but to the community. It is imperative that we stand against such tactics and advocate for a council that welcomes diverse perspectives and upholds the principles of democracy.