Supreme Court grants injunction on notice of intention to suspend Blue Mountains City Council

The people for the council: The public gallery was full at Tuesday night's extraordinary council meeting and full of signs in support of, as well as critical of, Blue Mountains Council.
The people for the council: The public gallery was full at Tuesday night's extraordinary council meeting and full of signs in support of, as well as critical of, Blue Mountains Council.

Blue Mountains City Council took its fight to avoid suspension by the state government to the Supreme Court last week.

The council sought an injunction on the basis there were no grounds upon which the minister may properly suspend the elected body of the council.

On Friday the court continued the injunction and transferred the proceedings for hearing before the NSW Land and Environment Court. It is expected to be listed this week.

Local government minister Gabrielle Upton issued the notice after claims were made of a conflict of interest into council’s independent investigation into asbestos management. Council says it followed due process.

In a judgment on February 22, Justice Monika Schmidt said she was “satisfied that the Minister may be proceeding on the basis of factual errors” and that there were also “questions as to the Minister’s views regarding a conflict of interest on the part of Mr Tooma”, the chief investigator examining the asbestos issue. 

Council endorsed its submission to the minister in response to her notice of intention to suspend at a meeting on February 20

“The specific, proper and formal conflict of interest process was followed and the engagement of [independent investigator] Mr Tooma proceeded specifically on that basis,” mayor Mark Greenhill said before a full public gallery.

Those against: The public gallery was full at the February 20 extraordinary council meeting and included signs in support of, as well as critical of, Blue Mountains Council.

Those against: The public gallery was full at the February 20 extraordinary council meeting and included signs in support of, as well as critical of, Blue Mountains Council.

“A further review of this issue was undertaken by Maddocks solicitors... Maddocks has confirmed the appropriateness of the steps taken.”

Labor Cr Romola Hollywood said the council had been “subject to a campaign in the media” around asbestos handling.

She said the pro-development lobby and a small minority were trying to undermine local democracy to allow other agendas to take place, to which some members of the public gallery yelled out “cheap shot”.

The mayor acknowledged there had been organisational failures in relation to asbestos management, but said council continued to address all issues on behalf of workers and the community.

The recommendations from Mr Tooma’s interim report about asbestos management at Lawson carpark, the Lawson Mechanics Institute and the Lawson depot were released last week.

It recommended: developing a policy to ensure council’s contaminated sites are remediated quickly; conducting a risk assessment when council acquires property; reviewing the responsibilities of City and Community Outcomes staff to ensure they cover council’s obligations in handling asbestos contamination; asbestos management training for all staff and developing a program empowering staff to stop work for health and safety concerns. It also recommended a review of middle management’s capability to provide adequate supervision to ensure health and safety; implementing programs to improve ownership of safety issues; and an audit to verify implementation of recommendations.