Newcastle Greens question ‘integrity’ of council vote

NOT GOOD ENOUGH: Greens Lord Mayoral candidate Therese Doyle has questioned the “integrity” of the September 9 local government election after the Liberal Party disendorsed candidates in two wards. THE Greens have questioned the“integrity” of next month’s local government election after the Newcastle Liberal Party suspended campaigning in two wards because of “irregularities” in the nomination forms of some of its candidates.

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The Newcastle Heraldrevealed on Wednesday that the Liberal Party had disendorsed Ward 4 candidates and suspended campaigning after it was discovered that some of the statutory declarations signed by candidates had been incorrectly witnessed.

It came less than a week after the party did the same in Ward 3, and ended the lord mayoral campaign of David Compton, because of a similar issue.

While the candidates –Mr Compton, Danielle Brown and Colleen Hodges in Ward 3, Hannah Eves, DanielCollard andHanan Nasser in Ward 4 –have been dropped by the party, their names will still appear on the ballot on September 9 because nominations had already closed by the time they were disendorsed.

But Greens lord mayoral candidate Therese Doyle hasquestioned whether the candidates are still eligible to stand.

“If the Liberal Party is not satisfied with the nomination procedures followed by the Ward 3 and 4Liberal team, what does that suggest about their compliance with NSW Electoral Commission’s requirements?” she said.

She said voters were “entitled to ask”whether the candidate are“a legitimately registered team or not”.

But the NSW Electoral Commission has watered down any possibility that the candidate’s eligibility might be dealt with before the election, saying thatonce a nomination is accepted by a returning officer there is “no provision” in legislation which would allow it“to take any action to interrupt the orderly conduct of the election process which is currently in train”.

“Returning officers do not have investigative powers and are not in a position to enquire into or decide questions on whether a candidate’s actions may disqualify them from holding civic office,” a spokesman for the Electoral Commission said.

“There was no evidence of any alleged irregularity placed before the returning officer at the time the decision was made to accept these nominations.”

The commission pointed the Newcastle Heraldto a NSW Supreme Court decision from 1995 which foundthat nominationsdepend“not upon the validity of the nomination papers, but on the belief of the returning officer as to their validity”.

“The test is not an objective one but a subjective one,” he said.

However, if any of the disendorsed Liberal candidates were elected it could be subject to a challenge in the court of disputed returns.

“If a person believes an individual who may be subsequently elected is disqualified from holding civic office [the] Local Government Act provides that an application may be made to the Civil and Administrative Tribunal for an order that the individual be dismissed from office”.

The Heraldreported on Wednesday that the Liberal Party had taken a hard-line against candidates after it discovered the so-called “irregularities” in nomination forms.

It means that the party is now down to running candidates in two wards;Taylor Wright in Ward 1, and sitting councillor Brad Luke in Ward 2.

On Wednesday Mr Luke did not want to comment on the turmoil surrounding his other running mates, except to ensure voters that there was “absolutely nothing wrong with any of my nomination forms”.

“I’m just concentrating on my ward and my area, the same as I have been doing,” he said.

But while the NSW Liberal Party has said its decision to suspend the two ward and lord mayoral campaign shows it will “not hesitate to take action where those standards are not met”, Ms Doyle believes the party should be more upfront.

“It’s not good enough for the Liberals to hide behind glib references to irregularitiesas the basis for dumping their candidates, particularly since … the memory of the series of political scandals involving Hunter-based Liberal Party elected representatives is still fresh in voters’ minds from the spectacular revelations of ICAC’s Operation Spicer,” she said.

“If the Liberal Party expects to be taken seriously by voters in the Hunter, they must explain what standards their previously endorsed Liberal candidates for Newcastle Council have failed to meet, and how these candidates breached those standards.”

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