A conservative Tweed Shire councillor has come under fire for trying to avoid paying $15 to see former Greens leader Bob Brown at Kingscliff Hall last Saturday.
Locals who saw Cr Carolyn Byrne arguing with the assistant at the function entry say they were embarrassed by the behaviour of the National Party-aligned councillor.
Councillor colleague Gary Bagnall and federal Greens candidate Dawn Walker, who escorted Dr Brown to the hall, are also scathing of the ‘scene’ she created.
Cr Bagnall has accused Cr Byrne of using her councillor position to try to get a gift or benefit by demanding free entry.
But the backlash does not seem to have fazed Cr Byrne, who repeatedly told Echonetdaily that she ‘doesn’t give political donations to any party’, despite the event being widely recognised as Greens-hosted function with the respected former Greens senator as guest speaker.
Cr Byrne’s actions have sparked a flurry of letters to newspapers complaining about her ‘unacceptable bad manners’.
Karen Morrison, of Fingal Head, says she was ‘embarrassed, disappointed and somewhat perplexed by the behaviour that I witnessed’.
Ms Morrison said that Cr Byrne ‘demanded right of entry through her political interest and continued to make quite a fuss at the door until sighting the arrival of Bob Brown and Greens representative for Richmond Dawn Walker, where she deliberately intercepted their path’.
‘Cr Byrne’s actions of disrespect towards Bob Brown and disregard for Dawn Walker was rude and unprofessional,’ she said.
‘That this display comes from an elected official representing the people of the Tweed is not only bad manners, it is among other things incomprehensible and unacceptable.’
Miranda Mills, of Mount Burrell, said Cr Byrne ‘first tried to gain free entry on the grounds that she was apolitical and that she was a privileged councillor who shouldn’t have to pay like everyone else did’.
‘But to any community member it is quite clear that Cr Carolyn Byrne is not apolitical,’ Ms Mills said.
‘The voting behaviour of Cr Byrne is in the public eye for everyone to judge.
‘Quite predictably she votes with Crs Polglase and Youngblutt, working to quash progressive or green directions for Tweed and to promote money-grabbing Gold Coast-like developments.’
Cr Byrne, when asked why she would attend a Greens function and feel she did not have to pay, said she ‘went over there as an interested person and was told I had to pay $15, and I don’t make political donations to any party; it’s a function to raise money for a political party’.
‘I’m always interested in hearing what people say and what their policies say. I did have the opportunity to talk to him there,’ she said.
‘It’s not about the money, it’s about the purpose of the funding; it’s a fundraiser to support Dawn Walker.’
Cr Byrne said, ‘you can describe it as you like’, but ‘the funds would be given to the Greens party’.
‘One is about giving political donations to a political party, the other one is about being informed about a political party’s position. They’re two different things,’ she said.
‘Why do I need to give a donation to hear someone speak when essentially that information I can get elsewhere?’
Cr Bagnall told Echonetdaily, ‘councillors are not supposed to use their position to get gifts or benefits, yet she’s trying to demand a gift of a free entry to a public event’.
‘Even Cr Katie Milne won’t accept a free cup of coffee from my cafe,’ he said.
‘She’s [Byrne] trying to use her position for financial benefit by announcing at the door she was a councillor and shouldn’t have to pay.’
Cr Bagnall was also scathing of his rival councillor’s claim that she was ‘apolitical’, saying that was ‘absurd’ as her voting pattern reflected a strong anti-environmental bias.
‘On environmental issues she always goes the opposite way, even when her conservative colleagues Crs Polglase and Youngblutt don’t.
‘Cr Byrne voted in April not to accept the recommended koala plan of management that all the other councillors voted in favour of and on the issue of erecting signs identifying seagrass beds in the river to alert boaties, she was the only one to vote against it, so she’s clearly anti-environment.
‘Now she wants the Lock the Gate signs (opposing coal seam gas) ripped out and that has upset many of her own constituents.’
Ms Walker told Echonetdaily that when Cr Byrne ‘bowled up and introduced herself to her and Dr Brown as they approached the hall, ‘she said she’d like to hear him speak but was not going to spend $15 for the pleasure’.
‘Bob and I both had a laugh about it afterwards when I told him she was one of our conservative councillors,’ she said.
‘It was an unnecessary and ill-mannered approach to a guest of Kingscliff. The whole of Kingscliff were absolutely thrilled by his visit, and people clapped in the street when they saw him. It was a joyous occasion, an unmitigated success as he was so well received, yet she was, well, embarrassing,’ Ms Walker said.
Cr Bagnall said there were ‘people of all political persuasions present, several Liberal and Labor supporters as well, and they were all quite comfortably sitting among the predominately Green audience’.
He said he felt ‘very embarrassed, as a fellow councillor’ when told of the scene outside the hall, and ‘thought that Carolyn’s actions were bringing our council into disrepute’.
‘It was not a council event. Everybody had paid to get in, even those that were helping to run the event,’ he said.
‘I have one of the Liberal Party’s speech writers staying with me at present, and he said he was equally horrified that someone would be so rude as to accost a peaceful meeting such as this and demand free entry.
‘Since the event a number of people have complained to me about Cr Byrne’s behaviour,’ he said.