Code of conduct allegations ‘vexatious, frivolous’ – councillor

 

2529 Jimmy Cocking 130By ERWIN CHLANDA

 

Councillor Jimmy Cocking (pictured) has made a public statement about a code of conduct process on which there are finally some findings. It dates back to an event in January this year, has been conducted in secrecy, into allegations not publicly disclosed, made by a person still unknown and investigated by a government appointed committee whose membership has been kept secret.

 

This is contrary to the spirit, and possibly the letter, of the legislation which provides for these issues to conducted in a public forum.

 

The minister responsible for Local Government, Gerry McCarthy, recently declined to comment.

 

The issues have had an undoubted and at times serious impact on the smooth and harmonious running of the Town Council for nearly a year now.

 

This is the text of Cr Cocking’s statement which outlines the nature of the complaint and the recent findings of the Local Government Disciplinary Committee.

 

• I am making this statement without prejudice to clarify the nature of the code of conduct complaints made against me and the findings of the Local Government Disciplinary Committee in relation to this complaint.

 

• A Code of Conduct complaint was made against me in regards to a Facebook comment made on January 31 and comment on the Alice Springs News on the same date.

 

• The complaint was lodged on April 5 by a resident of Alice Springs alleging I had breached the Alice Springs Town Council Code of Conduct.

 

• I knew the allegations were vexatious and frivolous and sought to clear my name. I ran as a candidate in the council election because I wanted to stand up for the things that I believed in, I didn’t think that in my first year I’d be facing a Local Government Disciplinary Committee.

 

• The process was not entirely clear and the Local Government Disciplinary Committee chose a closed door hearing which left me in a confidentiality limbo where I wasn’t sure how much and who I could talk to about the Code of Conduct allegations.

 

• I have since found out that the allegation against me was made at the same time as code of conduct complaints were being made against other elected members of the Alice Springs Town Council.

 

• Replying to the Code of Conduct complaint and then having to respond to the applicant’s response has been stressful and has impacted negatively on my family, work and my ability to effectively carry out my duties as a Councillor.

 

• Despite this, I continued to bring important business to Council – moving forward on the Town Masterplan, working towards reconciliation with the raising of the Aboriginal flag on ANZAC Hill, consulting the community on the use of ANZAC Oval and developing a Multicultural Policy.

 

• The findings of the Committee were released [not publicly] in early October, finding that the complaint was vexatious and frivolous.

 

• More than six months of my life has been plagued with this stressful process playing in the background – being uncertain and unable to talk about it. Fearing legal ramifications from the smallest Facebook comment that had become pages and pages of complaints. I have always believed in freedom of speech, but with a family, small budget and working hard to make ends meet – this complaint had a silencing impact on my usual forthright approach to important issues.

 

• I am happy that the right outcome was delivered, however I am left feeling that there is a much better way to do this that ensures Code of Conduct complaints are handled locally before a Local Government Disciplinary Committee is established. This whole process has been disruptive to my life.

 

• Processes are needed to ensure baseless, frivolous and vexatious allegations – like that served on me – do not cause harm to councillors or disable their ability to perform their important role in representing the community.

 

• LGANT has recently passed motions supporting a similar process.

 

• I am seeking advice as to what my options are in regards to speaking further on this issue.

 

• I will continue to work with my Council colleagues for a better Alice and continue to stand up for victims of bullying and intimidation.

 

 

UPDATE 5.28pm

 

Only some questions put this morning by the Alice Springs News Online about the code of conduct issue have been answered by Sueanne McCumstie, Media Manager, Corporate Communications Department of Housing and Community Development. It appears it is now at the discretion of the independent disciplinary committee members, whose identity is suppressed, to provide answers to the remaining questions, including who is the complainant and what was the complaint.

 

Here is the full text of the exchange:–

 

Who was the complainant?  What was the complaint?

 

The department treats any complaint as confidential unless otherwise instructed by the independent disciplinary committee considering the complaint.

 

What was the finding?

 

One complaint was made against Cr Jimmy Cocking which has been dismissed.

 

Who were the commissioners?

 

The committee is independent to the department. Your email asking for the names and contact details of the members of the disciplinary committee will be forwarded to the disciplinary committee. It is up to its members if they choose to respond.

 

Why was the matter not heard in a place to which the public has access, as it is clearly provided for in the Act? (Please note: There must be a public interest for any decision to hear sections of the enquiry in camera.)

 

When a code of conduct complaint is made it is referred to an independent disciplinary committee formed under section 80 of the Local Government Act. The Act states, if a disciplinary committee decides to proceed to hear a complaint, it is a matter for the committee as to whether a complaint will be heard publically or will be treated as confidential. In some cases the matter is dealt with on the papers and a formal hearing is not held.

 

 

 

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26 Comments (starting with the most recent)

NB: If you want to reply to a previous comment, start your comment with this notation: @n where n is the number of the comment you want to reply to.
  1. Ian Sharp
    Posted November 27, 2018 at 10:18 pm

    @ Steve. Your grasp of the Constitution on the point you raise is a bit dubious I think.
    S 122: “The Parliament may make laws for the government of any territory surrendered by any State to and accepted by the Commonwealth, or of any territory placed by the Queen under the authority of and accepted by the Commonwealth, or otherwise acquired by the Commonwealth, and may allow the representation of such territory in either House of the Parliament to the extent and on the terms which it thinks fit.”
    If I were you I wouldn’t stump up too much money on lawyers fees going to the High Court in support of your view.

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  2. Evelyne Roullet
    Posted November 25, 2018 at 4:26 pm

    As it is obvious that no one will back up, could the opponents bury the hatchet and carry on with their work and duties whatever it could be?
    Think of Alice and what you could offer to the residents.
    This terribly sad situation should never have happened, and hopefully will be used as a lesson for those who wish to attack others under cover, protected by stupid laws.

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  3. Posted November 25, 2018 at 4:02 pm

    @ Steve Brown: On the code of conduct matters and to your strange comments “open disclosure may not support your publicly declared statements”.
    I appreciate your attempt to justify your earlier story about you being served a code of conduct [complaint].
    However, the public are aware that on this occasion it was multiple code of conduct complaints that were made against multiple elected members, served all within days of each other.
    These matters have been reported on widely across many media outlets and very accurately here on Alice Springs News Online.
    Cr Cocking and I have been exonerated from all charges. Those charges were dismissed after each councillor was required to go through an exhaustive legal process which involved providing a comprehensive defence, proving that the applicant made baseless, vexatious and frivolous complaints. If it is a full explanation you demand, then which part of “exonerated” don’t you understand?

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  4. Posted November 25, 2018 at 3:21 pm

    @ Steve Brown: Your judgment of the democratic processes used to elect people is distorted and does not distinguish between the many voting systems in play.
    As you are fully aware, long before any election candidates representing political parties usually go through a preselection process requiring the vote of a handful of people.
    This is largely a closed door event and completely at the mercy of the factions and deal making that goes on behind closed doors.
    This preselection process ultimately produces a candidate who will do what the party tells them to. It is at this preselection process that you should be angry about and not the people for electing a party badged candidate, especially as they had no involvement in preselecting.
    At least a candidate who steps up to run in a council election is largely accepted to be independent of party politics.
    It will then be up to them to work hard and achieve a reasonable primary vote to even be in the running for any kind of preferences.
    The council voting system you crave for was nothing more than a covert system run by political parties to make sure they have the numbers in chamber.

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  5. Steve Brown
    Posted November 25, 2018 at 8:42 am

    @ Eli: Was that meant to be a clever political barb? LOL, you missed the mark by just a bit. I chose not to run for council, no regrets, and I have no ego driven feelings of political relevance one way or another.
    What motivates me is anger! Anger at the sheer bloody mayhem, dysfunction and loss of opportunity that has become the norm in the Territory, brought about by the quality of people we have been electing to fulfil the very responsible roles of guiding the Territory’s future.
    Instead of electing calm, mature candidates with a level of local knowledge and practical commonsense knowhow, we, and at council level, a corrupted system, have tended to elect personalities, based on their media profiles [and] very little local knowledge and often motivated not so much by the needs of Territorians as by career interests and in some cases utterly shameless self promotion.
    Recently you and Jimmy [Cocking] have been tearfully suggesting foul play, that you are victims, being shut down and silenced. Yet you won’t speak publicly to back up those statements. Why Not?
    You have been charged while acting in a role that is owned by the public.
    They are entitled to an explanation!
    There is no legal reason why you cannot do so! If you believe the public’s interests are being impinged it is “in the public interest” to have a full explanation.
    So, from where I sit, Eli, it appears you won’t go there because open disclosure may not support your publicly declared statements about bullying, victimhood and a denial of free speech.

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  6. Posted November 24, 2018 at 11:38 am

    @ Steve Brown: All code of conduct action taken against myself and Cr Cocking, as he stated publicly, has been dismissed under section 81 of the Local Government Act.
    This means the allegations were vexatious, frivolous and baseless.
    The decision to keep them in confidential during the deliberation period was that of the disciplinary committee, the respondent has no say in that matter.
    We will continue to represent Alice Springs in our roles as councillors and do the best for our community.
    I acknowledge your time on council and also that of all the previous councillors who gave of their time to serve their community.
    While it may be tough to accept, but a new group of elected members are in place and it’s their turn now.
    Could it be that you are struggling for political relevance and living in the past just a bit too much?
    That’s how it looks from my point of view.

    View Comment
  7. Steve Brown
    Posted November 23, 2018 at 8:35 pm

    I had no intention of wasting precious energy on old ground but since you went there Eli, I will too.
    However what I am not going to waste my time trying to explain to you or your mate who posted earlier why the electoral system is undemocratic.
    You sat through the same lectures I did on the subject if you’d listened you would already understand.
    To the code of conduct stuff, Jimmy made a complaint via a letter to council asking that I be charged for a breech of the code.
    I was summoned by the CEO just like yourself Eli, in that meeting.
    I informed the CEO that I did not recognise the Code of Conduct, that I would not apologise to Jimmy for calling him and Enviro Nazi in an comment to the Alice Springs News Online because the term was in general usage at the time. It still is, and I thought it applicable to Jimmy’s politics. I still do, and further that I thought the Code was undemocratic and a threat to free speech.
    I assured the CEO that I would challenge it all the way to the top and that I was perfectly willing to face the local government authority to do so, and that in fact I was looking forward to the opportunity having received support for challenging the Code of conduct all the way to the top of the NT Government at the time, because they also saw it as an attempt to hinder my right to free speech.
    The CEO informed me that he would take it to open council.
    I did not object as I was more than happy to face the music, in the full glare of the public’s gaze. It was put to council. I restated my case and that I would not apologise to council [which] including yourself, Eli, chose not to further the complaint.
    More’s the pity.
    I would have enjoyed the fight because that what it would have been, because Eli, I was unafraid of defending my actions in public and I was most certainly prepared to resign from council as a matter of principle over the issue.
    The question remains, how come you and Jimmy haven’t done the same?
    Could it be that the charges laid against you might give the public a little more understanding of just who the bully in the pack is?
    That’s how it looks from my point of view.
    Come on Eli, fess up, let’s deal with this story in the open!

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  8. Posted November 23, 2018 at 5:41 pm

    @ Steve Brown: To your comment “I’m not going to bore everybody going over old ground”.
    Then why did you bore everybody by going over old ground in the first place?
    The council was asked if your comments warranted a code of conduct which was quickly dismissed and no action was taken against you. NO comparison.
    Thanks for tip, I did Google it and here is what I found.
    As to your conspiracy theory regarding the elections of council: The CLP of which you were a member and an unsuccessful candidate in the 2016 election, had their chance to remove it when they were in Government. Why didn’t you bore them with your conspiracy theory then and get it removed?
    I think the proportional representation electoral system works very well.

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  9. Lord Westerdale
    Posted November 23, 2018 at 12:35 pm

    @ Steve Brown: You didn’t actually answer anything.
    Why do you think the council elections are undemocratic?
    You just put forward some kind of conspiracy theory that they are rigged to elect minorities.
    The elections are full preferential voting system, which is used across Australia for State and Local Council elections.
    So how are they undemocratic?

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  10. John Bell
    Posted November 23, 2018 at 8:22 am

    A wonderful phrase, is it not … “at the discretion of an independent committee”… whose members remain nameless … faceless. The nanny state bureaucracy rules in this age of the tyranny of experts behind closed doors.

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  11. Steve Brown
    Posted November 22, 2018 at 6:00 pm

    @ Ian: Sometime back the NT Government decided to try and prevent Regional Councils being dominated by particular families in order to achieve that result.
    They introduced an electoral system that no longer elects on the basis of a majority vote instead it flicks up random winners from minorities.
    This is now claimed to be a more representative outcome, in fact it is completely undemocratic because the very basis of democracy is that the majority rules.
    No if and buts about it! Might not be the best system but its taken thousands of years and millions of lives to achieve it.
    So how can a council election be unconstitutional given that councils aren’t recognised under the constitution?
    It’s quite simple: Governments cannot legislate a lower or lesser standard than that by which they themselves are bound.
    The Feds for insistence cannot legislate a place in this nation where the protections of the constitution do not apply.
    Following this to a conclusion it is also true of the NT Government which cannot legally subject its citizens to a lower standard that that by which it itself is bound.
    This of course is power delegated by the Feds therefore subject to the Australian Constitution. Hope that made sense.
    @ Eli: Honestly, you would be much more suited the school playground than council.
    I reckon you actually would have stuck your tongue out when you wrote that last line.
    And no, I’m not going to bore everybody going over old ground. It was all written up in this publication at the time. Google it.

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  12. John Bell
    Posted November 22, 2018 at 4:31 pm

    @ Interested Darwin Observer. Admittedly, I follow the Alice Council from afar, but the way that the investigation of the complaint against Cr Cocking was conducted is pretty typical across local councils generally everywhere these days.
    The blurring of tiered government responsibilities and charter is totally lost on the bulk of ordinary punters.
    Councils are now a most powerful source of setting social political policy and forcing it on State governments.
    They are frighteningly powerful in inner city electorates.
    Jimmy is part of this council-power politicised cuthroat scene.
    So he should toughen up, Buttercup, because there is be plenty more where that came from. On all sides.

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  13. Posted November 22, 2018 at 2:13 pm

    @ InterestedDarwinObserver (Posted November 22, 2018 at 10:22 am): You are correct to state the Australian Constitution refers only to the Commonwealth (Federal) Government and the States.
    However, local government was established in the various colonies prior to federation and remains a state-based responsibility.
    This included the Northern Territory when it was controlled by South Australia, which established a council for the town of Palmerston (Darwin) that was subsequently “inherited” by the Commonwealth when it took control of the NT in 1911 (this council voted itself out of existence in the late 1930s).
    There have been two referendum questions put to the Australian people with regard to local government.
    The first was in May 1974 when the Whitlam Government sought to gain the power “to borrow money for, and make financial assistance grants directly to, any local government body”.
    The second question was put by the Hawke Government in 1988 “to recognise local government in the Constitution”.
    Both questions were lost.
    Two decades ago I queried the validity of local government in the Northern Territory, given that the Commonwealth has no powers for local government under the Australian Constitution, and that the NT Government derives its powers in turn from the NT Self-Government Act which is a Commonwealth law.
    The ACT, which has a much larger population than the NT, has no local government – there is no Canberra City Council or Mayor of Canberra.
    A constitutional lawyer directed my attention to section 122 of the Constitution: “The Parliament may make laws for the government of any territory surrendered by any State to and accepted by the Commonwealth, or of any territory placed by the Queen under the authority of and accepted by the Commonwealth, or otherwise acquired by the Commonwealth, and may allow the representation of such territory in either House of the Parliament to the extent and on the terms which it thinks fit.”
    There’s no doubt about the legitimacy of federal representation of the NT but the question of whether this power extends to the creation of local government in the NT as valid still nags at me.
    It’s a constitutional question that ultimately can only be resolved by the High Court of Australia, but that’s dependent on this matter being referred to the court for adjudication – and clearly nobody is prepared to do it.
    However, as recent experience with several cases involving section 44 of The Constitution has shown, the Statute of Limitations has no application to constitutional law.
    To my mind, the validity of local government in the NT hangs over our heads like the Sword of Damocles.

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  14. InterestedDarwinObserver
    Posted November 22, 2018 at 10:22 am

    Ian, I can only assume that Steve is referring to the Constitution only naming two levels of Government. Council is a service provider – to consider them the third level of Government is questionable.
    Governments’ key duties are national defense, national infrastructure, upholding the rule of law (which should not be frivolous and personal liberty reducing in nature, though becoming increasingly so in the nanny state movement) and implementing a taxation system to manage these items.
    Anything above and beyond these items become socialist / communist in nature and leads to bloat, higher taxes and reduced personal freedoms and personal responsibility.

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  15. Hal Duell
    Posted November 22, 2018 at 12:40 am

    Thanks, Erwin.
    Having read the article by Domenico Pecorari and Cr Cocking’s comment in which he names Cr Price for something or other, I wonder if that started the kerfuffle.
    Council was new and not getting along with each other very well a year ago. Rex was running out of fingers trying to plug all the holes in the dike.
    Jimmy does have a bit of form here. I remember being referred to as a conservative racist in a different comment some time ago. It didn’t seem very important. He’s not the only one to make that mistake.

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  16. Ian Sharp
    Posted November 21, 2018 at 10:17 pm

    @ Steve Brown: Ha! Interesting comment, bet you enjoyed reminding Jimmy of that.
    However, re your comment “an idiotic undemocratic, I believe unconstitutional, electoral system …” I’m interested to learn why you think it is unconstitutional?

    View Comment
  17. Posted November 21, 2018 at 7:50 pm

    @ Steve Brown: I recall a complaint to the CEO in response to comments made by you as an elected member at the time and directed at members of the public, who rightly considered your comments offensive.
    I don’t recall you facing a disciplinary committee and having to go through months of anguish and spending days on end preparing multiple responses as part of being thrusted into a system that favours the applicant.
    I certainly don’t recall you having to spend money on legal advice regarding the complaint.
    You certainly weren’t made to feel bullied and intimidated.
    That may be because as I recall, a simple letter sent to council and rightly tabled for discussion by the CEO, with a complaint around your comments towards members of the public.
    A brief discussion was had in council following which promptly ended any opportunity for a code of conduct matter to proceed.
    I recall it took a few minutes.
    Members of the public should be encouraged to submit complaints against their elected members particularly when their actions are deeply offensive.
    In Cr Cocking case it has been resolved that the complaint was frivolous, vexatious and baseless. It was decided by an independent disciplinary committee appointed by the Minister, not Cr Cocking’s mates.
    There is a place for Code of Conduct but no place for baseless accusations.
    As for Cr Cocking’s performance the past 12 months while under extreme pressure, I would rate it as excellent.
    He has brought into chamber and moved successfully many motions on many issues that will benefit the town for a very long time to come.
    Most of the decisions were supported by majority of council.
    None of his projects and ideas are collecting dust on the thought bubble shelf.
    With reference to your comments around other elected members, well until you name those individuals I will reserve my response.
    By the way, Steve, do you recall what you called members of the public? Because I do.

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  18. Michael Liddle
    Posted November 21, 2018 at 7:36 pm

    Vote 1 Jimmy Cocking. He does fantastic work. Listens to people and asks hard questions that require honest answers. Keep the bastards honest, Jim!

    View Comment
  19. Steve Brown
    Posted November 21, 2018 at 5:08 pm

    Quote from Jimmy: “I will continue to work with my Council colleagues for a better Alice and continue to stand up for victims of bullying and intimidation”.
    Funnily enough, in my first year on Council I was also subjected to a Code of Conduct complaint, and in a rather pointedly ironical twist that complaint was made by one Jimmy Cocking.
    Not so funny when the boot is on the other foot, hey Jimmy?
    So typical of the Greens in politics all the outrage in the world when they are subjected to treatment they don’t like, but no qualms at all about doing precisely the same thing themselves. So bloody hypocritical!
    Seriously though all the talk of bullying and intimidation should be seen for what it is, just a different form of bullying and intimidation!
    Trying to badger the other side into submission through litigation! No wonder our town is struggling, its because an idiotic undemocratic, I believe unconstitutional, electoral system, left us with a number of councillors who were never prepared for, or committed to, their very important community role.
    I can only suggest that those who aren’t prepared to give the role the level of effort it deserves should do the right thing by our community and resign!
    Further: Councillors introduced the Code of Conduct and if you are so concerned by it, you believe its undemocratic bullying, you can also remove it!

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  20. Erwin Chlanda
    Posted November 21, 2018 at 7:11 am

    Hi Hal: Because of the absurd secrecy that surrounds this process we can only guess that it was triggered by a comment Cr Cocking made about a report headed “Let’s have an Australia Day when we are ready for it” which we published on January 31 this year.
    Erwin Chlanda, Editor.

    View Comment
  21. Paull Alekna
    Posted November 21, 2018 at 6:38 am

    So, the character assassination industry in our town continues to operate unabated.
    Tell the world who they are, Jimmy, so they can be shown the door. We don’t need them here.

    View Comment
  22. Hal Duell
    Posted November 21, 2018 at 6:18 am

    Could we have a link to the comment made on January 31 in the Alice Springs News Online?

    View Comment
  23. Posted November 20, 2018 at 3:28 pm

    Good on you, Jimmy. Far too much Council deliberation is locked behind a dubious need for confidentiality.
    It’s well past time the Council was more open and transparent and not run on so much secrecy.

    View Comment
  24. Posted November 20, 2018 at 12:19 pm

    To my mind this raises the question as to whether Jimmy Cocking and other councillors have been subjected to an act of defamation.
    Resorting to my old trusty Concise Macquarie Dictionary, I found the following definition of the word ‘defamation’: “the wrong of injuring another’s reputation without good reason or justification; calumny; slander or libel.”
    It seems to me that the complaint which has led to the code of conduct process, which has been found to be “vexatious and frivolous,” may fit that definition.
    If an offence of this nature has been committed, then it begs the question as to the legality of covering up the identity/ies of the complainant/s.
    Is it appropriate for government, or an arm of government, to rely on confidentiality to frustrate the possibility of holding a person or persons to account for their actions if they might possibly be in breach of the law?

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  25. Charlie Arrente
    Posted November 20, 2018 at 11:12 am

    Keep up the good fight Jimmy, its what is needed in the Council, honesty and commitment to the people of Alice Springs. It is stressful and unwarranted, but proving it wrong is a feather in your cap.

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  26. Ian Sharp
    Posted November 20, 2018 at 10:15 am

    Don’t let this knock you off your stride, Jimmy, we need you to keep representing your values and ideas in public forums, including the Council.
    I don’t always agree with you but you have made an invaluable contribution over the years.

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