WITH mayor Margaret O’Rourke leading the way, ratepayers were assured the current term of City of Greater Bendigo councillors would work collaboratively, for the good of constituents and without the conflict that dogged the previous council.
But one former councillor has pulled the curtain back and claimed council was never as unified as it was touted.
Julie Hoskin claims that within weeks of an initial honeymoon period in late 2016 after the election, she was singled out for her contrary views, ridiculed by her fellow councillors, then sidelined by them, and finally gagged.
Her claim is strongly rejected by Cr O’Rourke, who said Ms Hoskin found it difficult to accept when her line of questioning or opinion was not supported by others.
“During this council term, councillors have reinforced regularly as a group that we must respect each other’s views and opinions, and accept when there is not a majority of support,” she said.
Ms Hoskin was elected and came to the council with her own complicated baggage, including a two-year legal fight against the council’s 2014 decision to approve the construction of a mosque in East Bendigo.
She insists her interest in the issue was about correcting what she saw as faults in the planning approval process for that project.
But for her cause, she briefly aligned with the likes of the United Patriots Front when frontman Blair Cottrell came to Bendigo to stir up his own brand of trouble, uniting the far right against council decisions that had already caused factional splits within council ranks.
Whereas previous term councillors Helen Leach and Elise Chapman had each other for company, this time around Ms Hoskin found herself without allies.
That she was declared bankrupt on September 20, the day before she officially resigned as a councillor, was in her mind as she wrote the email, Ms Hoskin said.
However, she insists she had contemplated the move well and truly before the September bankruptcy hearing, and in fact had not attended council meetings nor briefings for most of the year after April.
It was at the April meeting in front of a packed public gallery present for the vote on proceeding with compulsory acquisition for the Marong business park that Ms Hoskin’s isolation was noticeable.
Cr O’Rourke repeatedly redirected the then Cr Hoskin when she tried to question council executives about the recommendation to approve a move to forcibly buy the property.
We know now that Ms Hoskin had 12 days earlier received a protocol limiting her communication with the council, issued because she had been recording telephone conversations without consent.
She was to direct all communication by email to governance manager Jessica Clarke-Hong, a demand Ms Hoskin felt was demeaning.
Cr O’Rourke said another challenging aspect of Ms Hoskin’s behaviour leading up to April was the increasing demands for access to information not required for decision making.
But Ms Hoskin responded: “In fact, the requests for information had decreased because I had reached the conclusion that the only way I could get the answers I needed was to ask the questions in the public meetings.
“If anything, I have had to ask the same questions over and again because they wouldn’t respond with relevant answers.”
This, Cr O’Rourke says is untrue, and that Ms Hoskin received responses to all reasonsable enquiries.
Ms Hoskin has previously said she recorded conversations as a matter of habit because of her previous involvement in legal cases.
Cr O’Rourke said the protocol was put in place to promote a safe workplace, because “it is the action of recording people without their knowledge that is a breach of trust and respect, which then made it difficult to work collaboratively with Ms Hoskin”.
On the last point, Ms Hoskin is scathing about what she considers a breach of trust by the council.
“I consider it a greater breach of trust and confidence when a group of councillors uses the councillor meetings to ridicule and accuse another councillor when there is no one else there to defend them and when the ridicule and abuse is also done in open meetings with staff and directors present,” she said.
“The workplace was perfectly safe and no one was threatened or violated by anything I had done.”
– Sharon Kemp