Editorial: Disturbing Council Exchange Over Family Violence Vigil

Filed in Just In by May 26, 2020

WHEN I report on Council meetings there are often things I find disturbing, but last night, during a discussion about representation at a candlelight vigil for family violence, I found it particularly disturbing.

Cr Sue Abbott asked Mayor Wayne Bedggood, if he had sent an email she had written questioning the protocols for who should represent the Mayor, to the police, as the Mayor had suggested he may.

The context: At the candlelight vigil this year, only had a handful of people directly involved with organising the ceremony were in attendance, including Lee Watts in her capacity as manager of the Scone Neighbourhood Resource Centre, Inspector Guy Guiana representing New South Wales Police, Joplin Higgins a local solicitor and strong advocate for the prevention of family violence, Marina Lee-Warner from Upper Hunter Homeless Services and Amanda Catzikiris from Upper Hunter Shire Council community services.

Mayor Wayne Bedggood did not attend and instead of delegating his address to Lee Watts as a Councillor, delegated it to police Inspector Guy Guiana.

Cr Abbott said, “…the email that I sent that started this all off, did it end up getting forwarded on to the local area commander of police, as was suggested at the time, I’d like to know whether it was forwarded on?”

The Mayor responded, “it was not, it was not! Would you like me to?”

Cr Abbott said, “you mentioned it, so I just wanted to ask, I just wanted to clarify that, no, I just wanted to ask that, thank you.”

Cr Abbott attempted to move on to her next question, but the Mayor interrupted and said, “but Councillor, for the sake of transparency should it not be?”

Cr Abbott, questioned what the Mayor meant, “why should it be? For the sake of transparency, why?”

The Mayor said, “shouldn’t the community know what we are talking about?”

Councillor Abbott then outlined the context for the public record, “yes, I’m happy for the community to know what we were talking about, right now, in relation to who gave an address at a vigil for domestic violence victims and I raised the concern that the area commander of police gave your address, given that Councillor Watts was there and could have done that with her Councillor hat on, as well as her other hat, that was what I was asking…”

Mayor Bedggood responded, “I also haven’t explained to you that Councillor Watts was there as her business representative, representing herself and giving a speech for another community organisation.”

Cr Abbott, continued, “anyway, as my question set out I would like to know basically who does speak for you, when you can’t speak? And can there be some cascading hierarchy of authority? So that it would flow onto the Deputy Mayor and then a Councillor, then perhaps a senior staff, member of the community, but you had mentioned in your email that you were thinking of sending it to the police unless anyone gave you good reason not to and I…”

Mayor Bedggood retorted, “I think you will find if you go back and read it I said, ‘can anyone give me a good reason why I shouldn’t share this with all of the people that are being talked about in that particular email?”

Cr Abbott said, “you only mentioned the police.”

Mayor Bedggood, “correct, I said, is there any reason that I should not forward this to the person that was in the email?”

Cr Abbott, “yes and I wanted to know whether you had, or you hadn’t, you’ve answered that, you said you didn’t, so thank you.”

Cr Abbott was then able to proceed to her next question.

To better appreciate the tone of the exchange, you can hear it towards the end of the meeting at approximately -8.26: Upper Hunter Shire Council YouTube Channel.

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