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Tuesday, January 19, 2021

Councillor Kath Elliott calls in the lawyers after being criticised by Labor

Independent City of Newcastle councillor Kath Elliott is seeking legal advice after an email calling her a “liar” was distributed to the media by Newcastle Labor councillors.

Newcastle Weekly received the email this morning, which stated two independent investigators had recommended Cr Elliott be officially censured for breaches to the Office of Local Government’s mandatory Code of Conduct.

The matter related to Cr Elliott revealing information on City of Newcastle’s lease of office space on Stewart Avenue in a TV news interview in October 2019.

Labor councillors say, at the time, the landlord was still securing other tenants, and the release of commercial information had the potential to impact their position and create significant legal risk for City of Newcastle.

The investigator found that Cr Elliott had “quoted a figure higher than the actual amount,” knowing that it “had the potential to cause harm to council’s reputation and mislead the constituency”.

Councillor Matt Byrne, on behalf of Newcastle Labor councillors, said in a statement to the media, that “in short, the independent investigation found Cr Elliott to be a leaker and a liar”.

“This incident shows that Cr Elliott cannot be trusted by the people of Newcastle,” he said.

“Cr Elliott can’t be trusted by journalists because she makes up figures as she goes in order to score cheap political points.

“It is disappointing that council is in this position, however, the advice of the independent investigator was that a censure is the only mechanism available to address Cr Elliott’s continued poor conduct.

“Newcastle deserves councillors that are willing to debate complicated matters based on fact, not those that pander to conspiracy theorists with their own set of incorrect, exaggerated and misleading statistics.”

However, when contacted by Newcastle Weekly, Cr Elliott said she stood by the figure.

City of Newcastle Councillor Kath Elliott.

“In saying about $3 million a year for the lease and clarifying this was an approximate figure in my [TV] interview, I was recalling the figure in the lease document, which is recorded as exactly $2,809,972,” she said.

“With CPI over 15 years, my figure of $3 million was not a lie.”

Cr Elliott said she strongly believes the public has a right to know where its money is being spent, and that the new rented premises is now the biggest liability on council’s books.

“Why, once the lease was signed, did it need to be kept a secret?” she said.

“It’s public money. Labor says it supports open and transparent governance but hiding the figures on this enormous expense to ratepayers is not open and transparent.

“It wasn’t until I argued for the people’s right to know that Labor subsequently released figures, which were lower than what was in the lease.

“I presume they had deducted a sublease, which, at the time I was interviewed, was unconfirmed and I believe is still vacant.”

Cr Elliott said she believed staying in the Roundhouse was a better financial decision, and criticised council for not revealing the total cost of the move to the new building despite ongoing requests.

“Labor wants to silence any opposition in its consistent and numerous codes of conduct applications against me and other independent councillors,” she said.

“It would be interesting to know just how much the ratepayers have spent on legal fees and code of conduct investigations in this term of council. 

“I have instructed my lawyers to investigate whether Cr Byrne has defamed me by calling me a liar. I look forward to his apology.”