By HARRY CLARKE
THE peak body representing Queensland’s local councils has slammed a move by the Office of the Independent Assessor (OIA) to potentially reprimand a country mayor who criticised the state government’s Covid vaccine rollout.
As reported by News Corp today, Barcaldine Regional Council mayor Sean Dillon is being investigated by the OIA after he questioned Queensland Health’s ability to vaccinate the region’s residents in the timeframe allocated by the department.
At a public council meeting in February, Cr Dillon said “it’s just not going to work”, that he had “no confidence in them” and “I just hope they don’t stuff it up because it’s the thing that we need to try and restore confidence in businesses and community events”.
Two months later, the OIA informed Cr Dillion he was reasonably suspected of “inappropriate conduct” that would be referred back to council to deal with if proven.
“To make such statements in a public forum is not in the best interest of the community and the OIA considers that this is a matter that should have been addressed directly with the CWHHS (Central West Hospital and Health Service) in the first instance, rather than in an open meeting of council,” a copy of the served notice reads.
Cr Dillon told Nine radio this morning that the “inappropriate conduct” allegation was elevated to the more serious charge of “misconduct” after he lodged a legal defence.
The OIA move draws into question the ability for elected local government officials to openly criticise or contradict actions of the state government.
The Local Government Association of Queensland (LGAQ) has defended Cr Dillon’s right to free political speech and commentary, saying LGAQ would “”take the matter to the High Court if needed”.
“It is way wide of the mark on this issue,” said LGAQ chief executive officer Greg Hallam (pictured). “It doesn’t pass the pub test nor accord with the Australian Constitution.
“The OIA needs to recognise their error, withdraw their action and get back to their important work which does not include pontification on political speech.
“The right to political speech is implied in the Australian Constitution.
“The vaccine rollout is discussed on a daily basis by politicians at all levels and on all sides of government. It would literally be mentioned hundreds of times a day in the Queensland media.”
The Caller has contacted the office of Steven Miles, Deputy Premier and Local Government Minister, for comment.