Councillor vacancy to become a saga

By Shane Scanlan

The appointment of Melbourne’s critical 11th city councillor looks set to become a long and protracted saga, with a multitude of potential outcomes.

Indigenous Voice candidate Brooke Wandin was successful at the October 22 election but resigned before being sworn in amid allegations that she was not correctly enrolled and, therefore, ineligible.

However, Ms Wandin’s resignation was not enough to stop Electoral Commissioner Warwick Gately on November 11 referring the matter to a Municipal Electoral Tribunal (MET).

Mr Gately said in a statement: “Although Ms Wandin has tendered her resignation, the mandated countback process for filling the vacant seat on the council cannot resolve any defect from the general election.”

A “countback” would see the position offered to Ms Wandin’s running mate Nic Frances Gilley.  There is speculation that Mr Frances Gilley may not actually want the position.  He’s not talking.  It was originally planned that he and Ms Wandin would run for the lord mayoral and deputy positions to funnel votes through to former councillor Richard Foster who contested the councillor section of the election.

But the pair incorrectly enrolled themselves in the councillor contest, precipitating a falling out with Mr Foster.  Mr Foster is not talking either. Together, Ms Wandin and Mr Frances Gilley polled 1628 votes (just 2.29 per cent) of formal votes, but Ms Wandin unexpectedly attracted enough preferences from other candidates to see her elected.

It turns out that she was incorrectly enrolled as a resident at Mr Foster’s address (which probably explains why Mr Foster is not talking!).

If a “countback” was conducted and Mr Frances Gilley did not accept the position, then it would flow to one of three leading contenders – Joe Sarraf, former councillor Stephen Mayne or Bruce Poon from the Animal Justice Party.

Despite Mr Gately’s reference of the matter to the MET, a countback is due to start on December 12.

The countback may well end up being a waste of time if the MET later orders a "recount".

The MET is an unknown quantity with discretionary powers which could lead to unexpected outcomes.  It might, for instance, disqualify Ms Wandin’s team, sidelining Mr Frances Gilley and triggering a recount.

Under such a recount, it could further order that the votes attracted by the An Indigenous Voice on Council team be set aside, which could have an even more dramatic effect on the composition of the council.

It has been suggested that one possible outcome could be the ousting of Cr Jackie Watts and the return of former councillor Susan Riley.

As it currently stands with only 10 councillors, Team Doyle is effectively enjoying a majority as the Lord Mayor has a casting vote.  To say there is a lot of vested political interest in the outcome would be a massive understatement.

Whatever the result, the legal eagles will be licking their lips at the prospect of a protracted tussle.

The Local Government Investigations and Compliance Inspectorate was already investigating the matter but Commissioner Gately said: “I am confident that any tribunal inquiry into this matter can be undertaken quite separately from other investigations that are currently underway.”

A Municipal Electoral Tribunal is a magistrate appointed by the Attorney-General to rule on disputes arising from local government elections.

Its website points out the obvious attraction to the legal profession: “It is not an investigatory body and, therefore, it is the responsibility of the applicant to provide sufficient evidence.”

Watch this space!

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