Report clears staff

‘Lawful, reasonable, within authority’

FREMANTLE’S acting mayor has declared everything is now on the table regarding the council’s handling of the homeless Tent City on Pioneer Park.

At this week’s council meeting a report submitted by acting CEO Glen Dougall found all council staff involved “acted lawfully, reasonably and within their proper authority” and councillors backed a committee decision not to fund an independent investigation.

But several ratepayers who submitted questions to the council only to be told to read the CEO’s report, say they haven’t got answers and it feels like a cover-up.

Beaconsfield resident Andrew Luobikis has questioned the legality of not responding to individual questions. He’d asked about mayor Brad Pettitt and councillor Rachel Pemberton’s involvement, but the report specifically excludes discussing elected members except at staff-initiated meetings. Dr Pettitt and Cr Pemberton submitted separate responses, and while Mr Luobikis accepts they do address some of his questions, he’s still not happy with how he’s been treated.

“This appears to be a consistent tactic of the council to avoid asking these pertinent and damning questions,” he said.

At last week’s Fremantle election forum (“Climatic debate,” Herald, February 20, 2021) Mr Luobikis asked which candidates would back an independent inquiry, only receiving support from Liberal Miquela Riley.

But acting mayor Andrew Sullivan said an independent report would be a waste of money.

“An independent investigation is not going to uncover more information, just give you a perspective from someone else,” he said.

“I’m not going to spend $10,000 for a reinterpreted perspective, because the Fremantle community already does that very well.”

Cut red tape

During Wednesday’s meeting, Cr Pemberton reminded her colleagues that when Dr Pettitt took the reins of the city, he did it promising to reduce red tape so it was easier for businesses and community groups to get events up and running.

Cr Sullivan picked up that issue later with the Herald.

“In all of that time, through those 10 years, how many times has there been a low-risk event that hasn’t gone according to plan – once.

“So, are we going to throw the baby out with the bathwater for one incident?”

Cr Sullivan said he was angry about criticism of the city’s community safety team.

“Our community rangers, the whole way they have worked has been exemplary – I could not be prouder.

“They really care about the most disadvantaged in the community and the way we deal with the delicate issues.”

The acting mayor said one thing lacking from critics was an alternative course for the city to have taken.

Cr Marija Vujcic, who’s call for an independent probe led to the CEO’s report, said the report provided “little comfort” for ratepayers: “The systematic failures in relation to Tent City are obvious and yet no one has taken responsibility,”she said.

Thanking premier Mark McGowan for stepping in to end the camp, she said there had been ample time for activist Jesse Noakes, who organised the Boxing Day soup kitchen that morphed into Tent City, to have submitted paperwork.

The CEO’s report acknowledges that a decision not to ask police to act immediately did extend the life of the camp, but claims it was with their agreement and based on the consequences.

“Ultimately it can only be speculated how the camp might have been closed earlier without having the appropriate support in place, but it is likely that this would have involved forcible eviction, possible large scale arrests and the camp occupants being dispersed around Fremantle or arrested,” the report says. “The camp was brought to an end within 29 days from its commencement; it can be noted that other camps located in the metropolitan area have taken far longer to resolve.”

by STEVE GRANT

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