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Councillors to adjudge Cr Novak’s comments

Comments made by Cr Deborah Novak were to be the subject of an extraordinary Clarence Valley Council (CVC) meeting on Tuesday June 16, however, she says she believes that she has done nothing wrong.

The cancelled meeting was prompted by complaints made by Regional Express (REX) airline, which has taken offence to Cr Novak saying REX should “pull their finger out” during debate at the May CVC meeting – about granting REX a 50 per cent cut to head tax charges incurred during the months of February and March, 2020.

Subsequently, REX announced in a letter to CVC’s councillors and the general manager that it will “cease all services to Grafton with effect from 3 July 2020”.

Mayor Jim Simmons cancelled the meeting on Monday afternoon June 15.

“Firstly it can be dealt with at the full council meeting next week,” he said.

“Basically, I had some concerns that it [the alleged misconduct] should have been dealt with at the May meeting when the alleged act of misconduct was alleged to have happened.”

At 12.18am on Monday morning an email from [email protected] was sent to each of the councillors; it warned that there may be legal issues at play if the extraordinary meeting were to be held.

However, the email was virtually anonymous and was signed ‘LR’.

Councillor Simmons said the email had played a part in his decision.

“I’m not sure if [the meeting] is lawful, or not; however, I am seeking my own advice from the Office of Local Government (OLG) and hope to have that advice in the morning [Tuesday].”

In the postponed extraordinary meeting’s business paper, the general manager, Ashley Lindsay, recommended to councillors that: “Cr Novak apologise without reservation to Lim Kim Hai Executive Chairman and the Board of Regional Express Holdings Ltd for her comments made in debate on Item 6a.20.011 at the May Council meeting calling on REX to ‘pull their finger out’;

“2. The Mayor, on behalf of Council, write to Lim Kim Hai the Executive Chairman of Regional Express Holdings Ltd, apologising for the negative comments made towards REX at Council’s May meeting and thanking him for what Council acknowledges are essential airline services that REX provides to regional Australia and in particular the services they provide to the Clarence Valley.”

In the ‘key issues’ section Mr Lindsay writes that he had held discussions with REX national airports manager “David Brooksby on Friday 5 June”.

He advised that Executive Chairman Lim Kim Hai took great offence to Cr Novak calling on REX to ‘pull their finger out’ and unless a public apology is provided by Cr Novak he would not reconsider his decision for REX Airlines to cease services to Grafton effective 3 July 2020.

Mr Lindsay writes in his report: “Grafton Chamber of Commerce president Carol Pachos has written to Council … calling on Council to ‘take whatever measures are within [CVC’s] power to keep this vital service for the business community of Grafton and indeed the Clarence Valley as a whole’.

“…It is quite clear that the business community and the general public … values the airline services provided by REX and it is most important for the local economy in general.

“…I have reviewed the recording of the meeting and I believe Cr Novak has breached Council’s Code of Meeting Practice during her debate on this item…

“In particular Clause 15.11 (e ) which provides: ‘A councillor commits an act of disorder if the councillor, at a meeting of the council: says or does anything that is [inconsistent with maintaining order at the meeting or is] likely to bring the council [or committee] into contempt’.

“Cr Novak’s commentary on REX and their Board was contemptuous and in accordance with Clause 15.12 (c) of the Code of Meeting Practice Council can call on Cr Novak to “retract and apologise without reservation” to REX and in particular the apology should be to REX’s Executive Chairman Lim Kim Hai.

“Clause 3.1 (a) of Council’s Code of Conduct, which applies to all Councillors and Council staff provides that “you must not conduct yourself in a manner that is likely to bring the council or other council officials into disrepute”.

“The comments made by Cr Novak about REX Airlines at the May Council would appear to have brought Council into disrepute.”

Meanwhile, REX has responded to the Independent’s enquiry, which asked: “Please explain why REX would take offense to one councillor’s comment, given that that councillor previously supported doubling REX’s initial request (50% to 100%) and a majority of councillors supported REX’s current request for a 50% reduction in head tax charges?”

REX wrote in an emailed response: “Council has chosen to discuss the Rex matter in open session and some councillors have voiced pejorative remarks about Rex with the full expectation that these remarks will be reported in the media.

“As elected representatives, they need to know that their official statements will have consequences and they need to take full responsibility for these consequences.

“The community and the media should turn to these representatives for comments and their plans for the future.”

The Independent asked Cr Novak what her intentions were, come next week’s meeting.

“I still believe I have said or done nothing wrong,” she said.

She said that she was representing her constituents.

“The entire Clarence Valley elected me to fight for them,” she said.

“I don’t answer to the GM or any other councillor; the only people I am answerable to is the Clarence Valley community.”