Australian State Govt to Probe Local Govt Watchdog

By Caden Pearson
Caden Pearson
Caden Pearson
Caden Pearson is a reporter based in Australia, with a background in screenwriting and documentary. Contact him at caden.pearson@epochtimes.com.au
October 26, 2021 Updated: October 26, 2021

The Queensland government will probe the state’s independent local government watchdog after growing concerns about its investigations, one of which was recently criticised as being a “storm in a teacup.”

Queensland Deputy Premier and Local Government Minister Steven Miles on Tuesday ordered an inquiry into the Office of the Independent Assessor (OAI).

This comes after the OAI was criticised for investigating a Queensland mayor for alleged misconduct after he raised concerns about the COVID-19 rollout plan for his town in a Barcaldine Regional Council meeting in February.

Deputy Premier Miles said that he has also recently heard fresh concerns about some of the watchdog’s other investigations.

“Queenslanders expect councillors to be strong and fair representatives of their communities,” he told parliament on Tuesday.

“The reforms we have implemented in local government are extremely important, but confidence in the system of integrity is also crucial.

“In light of recent issues, I’ve asked the parliamentary committee that has oversight of the OIA to conduct a review.”

The OIA is investigating a complaint that comments by Barcaldine Mayor Sean Dillon could be “detrimental to public confidence” in the local vaccine drive.

Dillon made comments during a local council meeting in February that expressed his concern that the plan by health officials to vaccinate everyone in his town in one day could not be achieved.

Local media reported that his comments included that he had “no confidence” in health officials who didn’t understand regional Queensland and thought they could vaccinate everyone “in one pass,” saying “it’s just not going to work.”

The OIA has also reportedly told Dillon that it was alleged his comments “should have been addressed directly with the [Central West Hospital and Health Service] in the first instance, rather than in an open meeting of the council.”

The independent assessor said this decision “did not demonstrate high-quality leadership.”

Dillon described the probe as a “farcical, protracted, way overblown storm in a teacup.”

Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk, who came to Dillon’s defence last week, calling the OIA probe “ridiculous,” and like Dillon said, the investigation was a “storm in a teacup.”

She said Mr Dillon had done a great job promoting the rollout in the Barcaldine region.

Local Government Association of Queensland (LGAQ) President Mark Jamieson said Dillon’s case was a clear example of the system “going wrong.”

“We simply cannot have a situation where elected members are scared to represent their communities in the frank and fearless way Queenslanders not only expect but deserve,” Jamieson said.

“The LGAQ has always supported the role of the OIA, but after three years, we believe it is time for a parliamentary review to look at what is working and what is not.”

The LGAQ last week said it was willing to take the matter to the High Court if needed.

AAP contributed to this report.

Caden Pearson is a reporter based in Australia, with a background in screenwriting and documentary. Contact him at caden.pearson@epochtimes.com.au