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Councillor found guilty of misconduct

HOT WATER: Cr Sheila Ireland has been found guilty of misconduct after failing to declare a conflict of interest.
HOT WATER: Cr Sheila Ireland has been found guilty of misconduct after failing to declare a conflict of interest. Rob Williams

CR SHEILA Ireland has been found guilty of misconduct under the Local Government Act after failing to declare a conflict of interest in a development decision in 2015 that impacted directly on her brother Jeffrey Walker.

Cr Ireland was found guilty by the state government regional conduct review panel and must undergo training to ensure future compliance with the legislation.

The Division 9 councillor apologised for her mistake when she spoke to the QT and said the panel made the right decision.

Cr Ireland's failure to declare a conflict of interest relates to the Ipswich City Council general meeting of September 15, 2015 when the planning and development committee report of September 8 was received and adopted subject to amendments.

The committee's report recommended that the application for a material change of use of 7 Queen St, Dinmore from residential to institutional residential - to accommodate a proposed youth and rehabilitation premises championed by Mary Hurst - be rejected largely due to unacceptable impacts on the enjoyment and liveability of the existing community.

In the 'submissions' section of the minutes the 24 residents who objected to the youth and rehabilitation premises were listed.

Cr Ireland's brother Jeffrey Walker - of 4 Albert St, Dinmore - was one of them.

But Cr Ireland did not declare her conflict of interest - namely that her brother was a nearby resident of the development and was strongly opposed to it.

This is revealed in the section of the minutes entitled 'conflict with a relevant instrument and reasons for the decision despite the conflict'.

Under that heading the September 15 minutes state "not applicable to this decision", indicating that no councillor had declared a conflict.

Section 172 of the Local Government Act makes it clear that "failure to declare a conflict of interest is misconduct".

Section 173 of the act of 2009 describes a conflict of interest in a general sense as a conflict between "a councillor's personal interests and the public interest, that might lead to a decision that is contrary to the public interest".

Section 176 of the act goes on to say that "the councillor must deal with the real conflict of interest or perceived conflict of interest in a transparent and accountable way" and inform the meeting of (a) the councillor's personal interests in the matter; and (b) if the councillor participates in the meeting in relation to the matter, how the councillor intends to deal with the real or perceived conflict of interest.

Cr Ireland's failure to declare a conflict was brought to the attention of the Local Government Department by a whistleblower.

 

CONFLICT: Local residents were up in arms over the proposal for a rehab centre in Dinmore. Jeff Walker (right), Cr Ireland's brother, was one of them.
CONFLICT: Local residents were up in arms over the proposal for a rehab centre in Dinmore. Jeff Walker (right), Cr Ireland's brother, was one of them. Inga Williams

Mr Walker, who was in the council gallery on the September 15 meeting, was later quoted in an October 30 edition of the QT explaining why he was opposed to the change of use that Cr Ireland had voted on.

"There are a lot of people around here with young children. My grandkids stay with us," Mr Walker said at the time.

"We bought here as residents and we've raised our family here. Most of our neighbours are in the same boat and it is a change of use that we are not prepared to cop."

Cr Ireland was apologetic when she spoke to the QT of her error.

"I made a mistake, a decision has been reached by an independent inquiry and I am sorry that I didn't declare it at the time," she said.

"I didn't think about my brother being on the petition (against the development).

"It all happened so quickly at the meeting and I didn't see his name there, so I didn't declare (the conflict of interest) at the time."

Cr Ireland, first elected in 2004, said she was notified just before Christmas last year of the review panel's finding.

"And I agreed with the decision that was made at the time," she said.

"I have to do some training courses on conflict of interest."

She said that her vote was not crucial in the decision taken by council not to approve the development application.

"My vote didn't change the outcome because it was a unanimous decision," she said.

Cr Ireland said that she intended to run again in 2020 and that she was still able to fulfil her role as a councillor.

"I have been there for 12 years and it doesn't effect how I deal with council," she said.

"I apologise to everybody that I made that error of judgement but it has been investigated and the decision has been handed down."

Topics:  sheila ireland


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