Outgoing Tweed mayor Gary Bagnall claims he was under pressure to sign a council documents for a controversial $100,000 interest-free loan to an elite tennis club when he snapped at a fellow councillor who has since taken the spat to police and the courts.
National Party-aligned Cr Carolyn Byrne is seeking an apprehended violence order (AVO) against Cr Bagnall over their hostility, and the case will be heard at Tweed Heads local court on 6 October.
But supporters of Cr Bagnall say it’s an extreme political tactic to try and sideline Cr Bagnall and give the conservative pro-development faction the majority on council.
One former councillor also claimed the use of the AVO was a case of ‘sour grapes’ because the conservative faction candidates last week missed out in a lucky-dip draw on the mayor and deputy mayor roles, as well as the all-important casting vote which helps them push through their agenda.
AVOs have been used in the past few years between political opponents in Sydney councils, claiming aggressive and intimidating behaviour, but the court actions in all cases have eventually been dropped.
Cr Bagnall, elected deputy mayor last Thursday, says he felt he’d been ’pushed to give ratepayers’ money away to a club patronised by millionaires’ when he was alleged to have insulted political opponent Cr Byrne at the mayoral election meeting last week.
In a frank interview with Echonetdaily, Cr Bagnall said he felt it was ‘extremely unfair’ that the majority pro-development faction had voted for the private Terranora Tennis Club to be given a $146,000 council grant for facilities and more recently a $100,000 interest-free loan, yet other tennis clubs in the shire missed out altogether.
The club, which has former National Party mayor Lynne Beck as one of its members, was recently given $200,000 in federal funding for the new club by federal Nationals leader Warren Truss during his recent visit to the club.
In 2012, Mrs Beck supported Cr Byrne’s campaign to run for council and handed out how-to-vote cards for her at Terranora Public school.
Cr Byrne also lobbied in her first meetings on council for the proposed police headquarters to be moved from Kingscliff to land at nearby Cudgen owned by Mrs Beck’s family.
The National Party faction on council (Crs Byrne, Warren Polglase, Phil Youngblutt) had been backed by Cr Barry Longland in the push for both the $100,000 loan.
But at last week’s mayoral-vote meeting, Cr Bagnall said he was upset with Cr Byrne and the other conservative councillors because they’d been pressuring the GM for him to sign the documents for several weeks.
‘I felt I had been entrapped and forced to do so, as I was then no longer the mayor and shouldn’t have had to sign the documents: this was the context of my verbally unleashing at Cr Byrne,’ he said.
‘It was an issue of equity, this was being pushed through by the faction for their rich mates at the private tennis club, yet council never donates to other, much needier, tennis clubs and facilities in the shire.
‘There is also a conflict of interest in supporting this particular elite club when it will compete with council which is spending millions on developing the Arkinstall Park sportsfields and tennis court facilities for the wider public.
‘Now these guys (the Terranora club) are getting a total of $446,000-plus for their clubhouse but the four councillors won’t give anything to other tennis clubs: what about the Murwillumbah and Kingscliff tennis clubs which want upgraded facilities?’
‘It’s a lot of ratepayer money and I wanted to stick up for the community: they were giving a private club a 10-year interest-free loan, yet they’ll slug ordinary ratepayers eight per cent interest on top of their rates bill if they are not paid on time.
‘Cr Longland and his National Party mates have also forced me to sign letters of apology to the Nationals’ state deputy premier and the party’s Tweed MP Geoff Provest over my stand for the area to become a coal-seam-gas (CSG) free region.
‘They were forcing me to sign things I didn’t think are right, this issue involved equity: rich people at Terranora get all the money, but the other clubs get crappy facilities and can’t get any money from council, it’s just not fair.’
Last week’s mayoral vote saw the Greens Cr Katie Milne elected in a lot draw when the vote was split 3-3 along factional lines.
But drawn votes are now expected more and more, at least until next September’s council election, as the Tweed has an even six councillors following the recent resignation of Labor’s Michael Armstrong, who quit to look after his ailing father.
Cr Byrne’s AVO bid may throw a spanner in the works of council meetings due every fortnight if an order is made to keep them apart.
[Comment on this aspect from council GM Troy Green is expected later today.]