FORMER councillor Julie Hoskin was declared bankrupt by a Federal Court judge the day before she resigned from the City of Greater Bendigo, but insists her elected position at the council was already untenable.
The bankruptcy ruling, which was backdated to May, makes her ineligible to serve as a local government councillor in Victoria, but she says the decision took her by surprise and she will appeal.
Ms Hoskin acknowledged the ruling was a direct factor in her council resignation, but said she had been unable to carry out her role and at times had felt physically sick at the prospect of going to meetings.
She has medical certificates that have excused her from meetings, most of which she has not attended this year.
Ms Hoskin said she had felt demeaned after she was issued a protocol by chief executive Craig Niemann in April that limited her communication with the council directly to governance manager Jessica Clarke-Hong, and by email only.
In correspondence seen by the Bendigo Weekly, Mr Niemann said the protocol was necessary after Ms Hoskin disclosed she had been recording her conversations with council employees.
Mayor Margaret O’Rourke said: “A range of instances of challenging behaviour towards staff, increasing demands for access to information not required for decision making at that time and an email from Ms Hoskin in March to myself confirming she recorded every call she received without exception triggered the need for the protocol”.
“Councillors then asked if she was recording council briefings and she would neither confirm nor deny.”
Cr O’Rourke said the protocol was needed to provide a safe working environment for “all staff”, and recording put at risk their confidence in providing advice and speaking freely about council business.
Ms Hoskin said she had done nothing wrong by recording, without consent, conversations either face to face and over the phone.
She said she was protecting herself because of numerous legal cases she had been involved in.
Cr O’Rourke confirmed the council understood Ms Hoskin was not breaking the law but she was in breach of the Councillor Code of Conduct.
“In some instances, the information was private or confidential in nature, in other instances the information would have been deemed public, however it is the action of recording people without their knowledge that is a breach of respect and trust, which then made it difficult to work collaboratively with Ms Hoskin,” she said.
Ms Hoskin said if it was a breach of the code of conduct, why not then include it in the code so that it applies to everyone.
“I did nothing wrong,” Ms Hoskin said.
The council has also accused Ms Hoskin of other alleged code of conduct breaches concerning separate matters.
“Following many attempts to work together and resolve differences, the reason the other eight councillors initiated the complaint was Ms Hoskin’s refusal to confirm if she was recording briefings and other ongoing behavioural issues contrary to the six principles of the code of conduct (responsiveness, integrity, impartiality, accountability, respect and leadership), which strained the working relationship and needed to be resolved,” Cr O’Rourke said.
Ms Hoskin said the council had been rushing her toward arbitration at the time she resigned, and she was not confident of getting a fair hearing.
Her departure has triggered a countback that could install in her place either Thomas Prince or Peter Cox who was mayor when the council approved plans to build a mosque, a decision Ms Hoskin before her election challenged in three tiers of court and ultimately failed.
In a bizarre twist, it was the Sydney lawyer Robert Balzola who represented Ms Hoskin in that legal action, who took out orders to have Ms Hoskin declared insolvent.
Last Thursday, Federal court judge Sandy Street judged in his favour.
Ms Hoskin had complained to the Council of the NSW Law Society in 2017 that Mr Balzola had used money raised by the community without her permission to fight the Bendigo council’s decision, a claim that was prosecuted by the society but which was ultimately won by the
Sydney lawyer on a technicality, as reported by the Sydney Morning Herald.
Ms Hoskin told the Bendigo Weekly Mr Balzola had used media reports including the news of the alleged code of conduct breaches, as an indication of negative character at the bankruptcy hearings.
She said she had not expected an adverse finding last week.
“I had been told prior to the court case that proper process hadn’t been followed and that it couldn’t go ahead,” Ms Hoskin said.
– Sharon Kemp