Long words spark ’caucus’ furore

Cr Angela Long said she had to withdraw from the deputy mayoral vote or risk being kicked out of the Labor party.

By Cam Lucadou-Wells

A Greater Dandenong deputy-mayoral candidate’s concession speech has sparked calls to investigate alleged Labor Party “caucusing” ahead of the vote.

At a 27 November meeting, Cr Angela Long declared she’d withdraw from the deputy mayor contest with fellow Labor Cr Richard Lim or otherwise risk being kicked out of the party.

“I didn’t get enough Labor councillors to vote for me in the caucus meeting that was held last night (26 November).

“If I go against this, I risk losing my Labor party membership for which I’ve been a member for over 39 years.

“I should receive a life membership from the party next year.”

Cr Long’s withdrawal broke a deadlock between the pair, which couldn’t be resolved at a council meeting 11 days earlier.

In the vast majority of Victoria’s councils, councillors vote for a mayor and deputy mayor for 12-month terms.

In Greater Dandenong’s Labor-majority council, it means Labor councillors routinely rotate the mayoral role among themselves.

In a letter to councillors and the Local Government Inspectorate (LGI), Council Watch president Dean Hurlston said the Labor ‘pre-meeting’ was a “likely” breach of the Local Government Act.

“Councillors are reminded of your code of conduct, and the Local Government Act which says you must make decisions in the best interests of your municipal community.”

He called for the immediate investigation of any councillors involved.

Liberal Cr Tim Dark said he abstained from voting in the initial election due to suspected Labor caucusing.

He described their conduct as a “categoric breach of the Act”.

“Where you have got people taking higher office due to a dodgy, internal backroom deal, it is clearly not in the interests of the community.”

Cr Dark’s abstention however attracted the attention of the LGI. Under law, each councillor must vote for a mayoral and deputy mayoral candidate and can’t formally abstain.

“I should have left the room (instead),” Cr Dark said.

“I didn’t vote because I knew there were dodgy backroom deals going on. I made the inspectorate aware that caucusing was going on – and that was validated by Cr Long’s statement.”

Greens Cr Rhonda Garad said she would no longer vote in mayoral and deputy mayoral elections if alleged caucusing continued.

“I’m tired of this annual bloodbath of them jostling each other for those positions. And we’re just collateral damage, where we’re forced to take sides and to give legitimacy to that.

“That’s why I won’t vote anymore. My question to the inspectorate would be do you want me to legitimize an undemocratic process?

“What I say to the Labor people and councillors is why do you need to do this? Why do you need this party policy to kick people out if they oppose the party?

“It’s undemocratic. It diminishes the Labor party and diminishes the respect the community has for them.

“The community know when they’re hoodwinked – no one wants a backroom deal, we need to be open and transparent.”

Labor Cr Jim Memeti recently said that a mayoral vote by the community rather than councillors would be more transparent.

After the vote, he backed the current practice. “My understanding is it’s not a breach of the Local Government Act.”

Greater Dandenong Council was contacted but did not respond before deadline.

Meanwhile the LGI recently reprimanded Cr Long over an interview with Dandenong Star Journal.

In February, Cr Long allegedly breached council confidentiality provisions by speaking out on her intervention order against former councillor Maria Sampey.

It was in context of a ‘confidential’ council vote on whether to reimburse Cr Long $8903.71 for her privately-hired lawyer.

After an investigation, the LGI decided last month to issue a warning to Cr Long, who had no prior breaches in 24 years on council.