Meeting adjourned as councillor conduct debate becomes unruly

Report and commentary by Steve Hart

Another meeting of Hume City Council had to be adjourned this week, not because of protesters in the public gallery as happened on 29 April, but because a handful of councillors got out of control.

Oddly, it was an item about councillor conduct and expenses – that could have been nodded through without too much excitement – that caused such a row the meeting had to be put on hold. Thankfully, there was a well-stocked refreshment trolley close to hand.

Vision and audio was cut during the adjournment, so those watching online were left to wonder what was going on. It soon became clear though.

Shortly after the meeting resumed, Meadow Valley Ward Cllr Sam Misho stepped in to end what can only be described as an embarrassing exhibition by asking that ‘the motion be put’. A technical manoeuvre to end a debate.

But before that happened, it was claim and counter-claim, repeated shouts of “point of order”, and behaviour that wouldn’t look out of place at any one of the council’s other kindergartens.

Cllr Jack Medcraft.
Cllr Jack Medcraft.

Cllr Dance made numerous points that caused Cllr Medcraft – having already spoken about the cost of council legal bills in relation to complaints against councillors – to request a right of reply.

It was then mayor Kurt, perhaps guessing what was coming next, tried to bat Cllr Medcraft away.

Unfortunately, Cllr Carly Moore appears to have encyclopaedic knowledge of the rule book and helpfully advised the mayor that Cllr Medcraft should be free to have another crack. Cue rustle of paper as rule books, looking as good as new, were frantically referenced by those hoping to stop the nonsense. They found nothing.

Shortly after Cllr Medcraft again began speaking he was interrupted, this time by Cllr Jodi Jackson alleging he had strayed from the agenda item. Councillors can only speak to items listed in meeting agendas.

Hume City councillor code of conduct row

Mayor Kurt ruled against Cllr Jackson, only for her to raise yet another point of order, at which time the mayor looked to acting manager of governance Joel Kimber for help.

“Councillor Medcraft is okay to continue with his …statement, thanks,” said Kimber, hoping he had dodged a bullet.

As Cllr Medcraft rose to his feet again, Cllr Dance asked Kimber to provide a reason for his ruling.

Sunbury councillor Trevor Dance.
Cllr Trevor Dance.

“You have got to give us the reasons why,” said Cllr Dance. “You have to refer to the governance rules. You just can’t say it is okay to speak.”

Mayor Kurt cleverly sidestepped this issue by roping in council CEO Sheena Frost. Her advice seems to have been to adjourn the meeting for a few minutes.

Council business that could have been completed in a flash took 23 minutes. The cause? Complaints about councillors that have cost Hume City ratepayers a small fortune. Almost enough cash to fix an old, tired, crumbling, flaking, leaking swimming pool.

But which councillors have been the focus of these complaints? We don’t know for sure, but Cllr Medcraft put his hand up to receiving 25 during his current term of office.

“I must have been the worst councillor in this State,” said Cllr Medcraft. “I have had 25 complaints against me for misconduct.

“I’ve not had one of these investigations call on me to be suspended or reprimanded.”

Official figures show that in the year to 31 June 2023, $280,077 was spent on complaints about councillor conduct at Hume Council. In the financial year to date, $81,436 has been spent. Combined, the figures add up to an eye-watering $361,513.

“That is an amazing figure,” says Cllr Medcraft. “I wonder how much of that has been wasted on your’s truly?”

Perhaps those at the meeting should have listened more carefully to the opening prayer delivered by Pastor Enele Tailiki who asked God to help the council engage in meaningful discussion.

Amen to that.