Councillors backflip on inquiry vote

TWEED Shire Council's majority faction has overturned a decision which would have allowed their solicitor to give evidence at the upcoming public inquiry into council.

In a heated debate on Wednesday night, minority councillors accused the controlling majority faction of sending the wrong message to the community that some councillors had something to hide by not co-operating fully with the inquiry.

Councillors voted 6-5 (Crs Max Boyd, Barbara Carroll, Steve Dale, Dot Holdom and Henry James against) to rescind a decision made behind closed doors a fortnight ago for council to waive legal professional privilege for solicitor Tony Smith of Stacks The Law Firm, Northern Rivers, to give evidence at the inquiry.

Mayor Warren Polglase, who originally voted to relinquish privilege, said he later had some trepidation and after getting advice from Mr Smith changed his mind and lodged the rescission motion to overturn it with his factional colleagues.

Cr John Murray said it was extraordinary "to have a solicitor change his clothes like a superman stunt and come back as a witness".

"He can't be two things, he's either our legal representative or our witness," Cr Murray said.

Cr James said the public "will ask why we would not want Mr Smith to speak".

"I can't see what the problem is. Presumably the questions he'll be asked will be questions on fact and if it's an opinion, he'll say so," Cr James said.

"You have to ask why is it some councillors are not prepared to waive privilege. I can understand Mr Smith feeling uncomfortable because he knows some councillors don't want him to do it."

Cr Bernie Bell said the Evidence Act emphasised issues of protection such as a priest not disclosing what was told to him in a confessional.

"A doctor, priest, husband and wife and a solicitor are protected by law ... if we waive our right to protection, what protection do we give our solicitor - if we take the privilege away of not giving evidence we're doing a big injustice to him," he said.

Cr Gavin Lawrie said it was outrageous that inquiry Commissioner Maurice Daly, whom he described as "a retired professor of geography", had asked council's solicitor to give evidence.

Meanwhile, Cr Dale said majority councillors had done "an enormous backflip" from their preChristmas "bring it on, we've got nothing to hide" position on the inquiry to a post-Christmas reaction of trying to denigrate and stop the process.

But Cr Lawrie said they had earlier welcomed the inquiry on the premise it would follow the rules of evidence.

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