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Byron Shire
October 17, 2021

Old tricks?

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Fast Buck$, Coorabell

After I wrote last week’s letter questioning Council’s performance in a court case it lost I was handed a copy of the Commissioner’s written judgement in that matter. I nearly fell over when I saw that Council had been represented by a firm called Wilshire Webb.

Wilshire Webb were Max Eastcott’s personal lawyers when he appeared before ICAC in 1995. Not long afterwards they became Council’s lawyers, beating a field of 28 applicants, and they were still Council’s lawyers in 1998 when I was voted onto Council.

In those days councillors took a direct interest in legal proceedings via the Legal Services Committee. We took note of costs and various stages of legal proceedings in which Council was involved, voting to continue or discontinue proceedings, whether to appeal or not, the merits of the various cases and so on. Former general manager (GM) Graham Faulkner contrived first to mothball the committee, and later, to get rid of it altogether. GMs generally prefer elected councillors to remain in ignorance.

I lobbied to reinstate the committee but Basil Cameron went public suggesting that said committee usurped the role of Council. That was rubbish. Every committee decision has to be ratified by the full Council. I suspect that Basil was given that wilful misinformation by staff, and that these days he’s a wiser man – at least I hope so.

Wilshire Webb were highly controversial during their tenure and when I was on Council I didn’t mince my words; I described them as ‘dodgy as hell’. I never received a summons, or even a threatening letter. Ross Tucker responded to my claims by sarcastically mocking them in his little rag, a right wing technique, later perfected by Donald Trump.

Anyway, Wilshire Webb were finally kicked out about 20 years ago. They themselves might describe it differently, but within legal circles I heard it was understood that they had been ‘sacked’.

Scroll forward to about three years ago and Council was in the process of selecting a new panel of city lawyers to handle cases as they arose. I noticed that the matter was listed in the agenda without the applicants being named. I complained about this and the matter was then held over till the next Council meeting. Lo and behold Wilshire Webb were there among the half-dozen named applicants!

I was told that Wilshire Webb had not been selected to be on the panel, but apparently they’ve been representing Council for a while now. Accordingly last week I put in a question asking for an explanation, but I wasn’t up to hanging around the chambers, so I don’t know what the response was.

I say ‘response’ because I know full well that there won’t be any meaningful ‘answer’ such as would fill the gaps in information.

Having digested the Commissioner’s reasoning it is quite clear to me that she was critical of Wilshire Webb’s performance, pointing to three important instances where they failed to provide relevant evidence or counter-arguments. Indeed that’s how I remember their performance in the good old days: they didn’t try real hard at all when Council was trying to hold a developer to accepted standards.

There are dozens of firms out there capable of handling such routine cases, so why go back to this particular firm? My experience is that the right wing often has a mischievous streak, such that they like to make fools of elected councillors. Well they’ve certainly done a number on The Greens this time. What says our High Priest of Denial, the Mayor?

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