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Nillumbik councillor a "witch hunt" victim, court told

29 May 12 @ 08:06am by Raelene Wilson

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Cr Belinda Carkson.




A NILLUMBIK councillor has been the victim of a “witch hunt”, a court has heard.

Barrister Dyson Hore-Lacy SC, for Cr Belinda Clarkson, told Heidelberg Magistrates’ Court yesterday the council had relied on “wishy-washy” legal advice in assuming his client had breached the Local Government Act when she attended two meetings in December 2010.

The court heard that at one of the meetings, organised to discuss the council’s Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal case against Cr Clarkson, solicitor Mark Hayes advised it was “arguable” the Blue Lake ward councillor’s presence constituted a direct or indirect conflict of interest breach.

Mr Hore-Lacy suggested the council could have used other options to consult with Mr Hayes if it wanted to exclude Cr Clarkson from the meeting and the benefit of legal advice.

“One might say it was a witch hunt,” Mr Hore-Lacy said.

“I suggest, in fact, it is.”

The Local Government and Compliance Inspectorate charged Cr Clarkson in July 2011 over alleged breaches of the Local Government Act.

The Inspectorate alleges Cr Clarkson failed to declare a conflict of interest at a councillor briefing on December 8 and again during the discussion of confidential items at the council’s ordinary meeting on December 21.

Cr Clarkson denies the breaches and believes she met conflict of interest exemptions under the Act.

The prosecution was expected to call up to 16 witnesses but yesterday just four – the council’s chief executive Stuart Burdack, general manager of corporate services Andrew Port, Mayor Michael Young and Cr Ken King – gave evidence.

The case continues before Magistrate Michael Smith today.