Richmond MP Justine Elliot has launched a scathing attack on Tweed businessman Rory Curtis, calling on him to quit his post as Tweed Chamber of Commerce president for ‘compromising its once non-partisan reputation’.
Mrs Elliot said that by overtly backing her political opponent in the upcoming federal election, Mr Curtis had politicised the chamber he is president of.
She has also attacked him for ‘intentionally trying to hide his National Party loyalties and membership’ from the media and the public.
She revealed he is the most senior National Party figure in the electorate, as chairman of the Nationals’ Richmond Electorate Council for the past two years, saying he was therefore ‘running the show while trying to be a faceless man too’.
Mrs Elliot also released email correspondence between her and Mr Curtis yesterday, describing Mr Curtis’s response to her as ‘bizarre’.
But Mr Curtis said his comments to a local media outlet yesterday, offering to throw his ‘full support’ behind National Party candidate Matthew Fraser, were made ‘as an individual’ and not as chamber president.
The report prefaced his comments by describing him as the chamber president and how he ‘hoped for a positive change for the Tweed business community’.
Mr Curtis told Echonetdaily he had later ‘clarified’ the endorsement with the media outlet that it was said as ‘an individual’ during the campaign launch of Mr Fraser.
But Mrs Elliot stuck to her guns, saying Mr Curtis was ‘entitled to be an active member of the National Party, but as president speaking on behalf of the chamber he’s now crossed the line and can no longer be considered politically impartial’.
She said he had ‘compromised the once non-political reputation of the Tweed Business Chamber and must now resign because of his overt political bias’.
Mr Curtis has been at the forefront of a controversial and orchestrated campaign recently by conservative supporters to have Tweed council sacked for suddenly terminating its general manager’s contract.
He claimed the campaign to have the former GM reinstated was non-partisan, but opponents have labelled it a ‘farce’ because of the involvement of many National Party and conservative supporters and former politicians in a bid to topple the new progressive majority on Council.
Veteran National Party Cr Warren Polglase is Mr Curtis’s deputy (vice president) on the Tweed Heads Chamber of Commerce.
Mrs Elliot said, ‘the chamber and its membership should not be used as a political vehicle for the benefit of Rory Curtis and his fellow National Party mates’.
Mr Curtis said he won’t quit his role as head of the chamber ‘but I am retiring at the end of my term in July’.
He told Echonetdaily that he ‘used to vote Labor but the relationship is now fractured’.
‘The Tweed chamber is an unbiased, apolitical organisation and we have a history of having political presenters from all persuasions, for example, MP Justine Elliott is locked in to speak in approximately two breakfasts from now and we have had, and will continue to, meet the council candidate forums,’ Mr Curtis said.
‘The reality is that a high proportion of business operators are conservative voters, which will be no mystery to MP Justine Elliott and I am happy to support Matthew as a “reformed conservative voter” in his campaign.’
When pressed about his National Party affiliation, he responded by saying ‘like many people involved in local associations (eg Dawn Walker as president of the Fingal Head Community Association), I am a member of a political party. I recently joined the National Party as a prior disenfranchised Labor voter.’
In his email to Mrs Elliot, Mr Curtis said he had ‘never intentionally hid anything and today was the only and first time I have ever being questioned on my membership of a political party and when I was asked I informed Luis from The Echo of my membership.
‘No one has ever approached me with a direct question. My mum and dad bought me up to tell the truth and that’s what I did.
‘Your aspersions that I intentionally hid anything is an insult and there is nothing in the constitution of the chamber that says a board member must not have a political membership.
‘My request still stands that you retract the statement that I politicised the chamber. The statement I made was as an individual.
‘There is no shame in saying you got it wrong.’
He told her also that ‘for the record I’m a Roman Catholic, follow the Titans, belong to Rotary, like the colour red and my star sign is Scorpio’.
Cr Gary Bagnall, who was targeted by the conservatives’ campaign to have the former GM reinstated, has called on the local business chambers to ‘clean up their leadership as they appear to have been hijacked by a single political party with an agenda of its own’.
Cr Bagnall was in Sydney for the past month to attend to his ailing father, who died over the Easter weekend, and he could not respond to the attacks on him, which included threats and intimidation by known supporters of the minority conservative councillors.