Re: Hard Ball

Bendigo Weekly | Bendigo Weekly | 11-Dec-2015

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By Cr Elise Chapman

Re: Hard Ball, Bendigo Weekly, December 5, 2015 

Natalie Hutchins, Minister for Local Government, refers to councillors “whose behaviour has not been in line with the Code of Conduct”, and states that “more transparency” is needed in such matters.

I totally agree that more transparency is needed, and I suggest that, if Ms Hutchins is serious about this, she take the necessary steps to change the Local Government Act so that all Conduct Panel reports are tabled and become public documents.

I note that reference is made by Ms Hutchins to more than one “offending” councillor at the City of Greater Bendigo council, yet the only example raised by Ms Hutchins is that concerning my alleged “graphic tweet”, on the subject of the barbaric practice of female genital mutilation.

Both Ms Hutchins and the Bendigo Weekly need to get their facts straight. 

In the interests of clarification, I will summarise:

I was charged under 4C(c), ie “not acting in ways that may damage the council or its ability to exercise good government”. 

I was found not guilty.

For those who may be unfamiliar with the story, the truth is that I posted an image depicting victims of genital mutilation on a Sunday afternoon, on my private phone, on my personal Twitter account, which is linked to my personal email account.

I had sent this image on three previous occasions (along with others relating to “child brides”, victims of another crime perpetrated against children, and which is also happening here in Australia), to my 8000+ followers, none of whom complained of being offended. 

Reasonable people condemn the practice of FGM, and agree that there is a need to raise public awareness of this issue, which affects thousands of women and girls in Australia.

It was only after CEO Craig Niemann alerted the media by media release that complaints and overwhelming support began to appear.

The CCoGB Code of Conduct outlines a process for resolution which includes the option of mediation. I was denied this.

Furthermore, I was asked by the mayor, Cr Peter Cox, not to comment on the matter publicly; I was, effectively, gagged.

The media made a big fuss about the fact that I had not signed the CCoGB Code of Conduct document. I had declined to do so, as this document was incomplete, making reference to conditions which were not specified in the document. 

I was vindicated by the MAV panel, who recommended that council correct this oversight, which has since been rectified.

I was found guilty of breaching a CCoGB media policy which was not part of the Code of Conduct but has since been added.

In campaigning against FGM I have broken no laws.

This whole episode was a beat-up from the start. There is no doubt that I have been singled out by people who have their own reasons for wanting to damage my credibility, and to silence me.

When I stood for election to council, I made a commitment to represent the people who elected me.

 “I will be your voice on council” was my solemn promise – a promise which I have kept.

I am proud of my long record of community involvement in, and contribution to, Bendigo. I take my responsibilities as a councillor seriously, and earn every cent of my salary of $28,000. 

I am one of a few Bendigo councillors who has successfully completed the three-year course for the Diploma of Local Government, a qualification held by very few councillors within Australia.

I do a lot for this community, participating in fund-raising activities, and helping out where needed.

Just during the past week, for example, I sold raffle tickets to a crowd of over 1000 at the Maiden Gully Christmas carol event, volunteered at the Golden Square pool kiosk, and met with a number of constituents to discuss their concerns.

I will continue to listen to and speak for the people of Bendigo, and represent their interests to the best of my ability. I will continue to campaign for the rights of women and children, regardless of ethnic or cultural origin. 

There will always be people who find reality confronting. They have the option of “switching off”. Children don’t have a choice.

In conclusion, I’m tired of being the media’s punching bag, and I call on all media outlets to get their facts right, or I will be reporting them to the Press Council, as I have successfully done against the Bendigo Advertiser in relation to a number of their stories about me.

I also invite Ms Hutchins to my appeal trial; that way she can hear all the facts and see all the evidence.

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