Commissioner reopens part of Blue Mountains council inquiry

Blue Mountains Council: First part of the public inquiry has been reopened, but in private.
Blue Mountains Council: First part of the public inquiry has been reopened, but in private.

The public inquiry into Blue Mountains council and its asbestos management has been reopened but behind closed doors.

Inquiry commissioner, Richard Beasley, QC, decided to restart the first part of his inquiry after allegations were made by radio shock jock Ray Hadley that he had been misled or lied to by some of the witnesses.

Mr Beasley in April investigated whether the appointment of two investigators - one to examine asbestos issues and the other to canvas allegations over the appointment of Mark Mulligan as a safety consultant at council - was proper.

He also examined whether the asbestos investigator, Michael Tooma, had a conflict of interest because of his friendship with Mr Mulligan.

The particular term of reference of his inquiry (number four) was sparked after Mr Hadley made allegations on his 2GB radio program in February last year.

In Mr Beasley's interim report in May, he found no conflict on the part of Mr Tooma and rejected Mr Hadley's allegations of impropriety, saying they were wrong.

Mr Hadley shot back on air, claiming that council staff, including the general manager Rosemary Dillon, had misled Mr Beasley during the hearing.

He said: It's an absolute disgrace that the general manager of council and Megan Tebay [a council employee] misled the commissioner, in my opinion. Because his findings seem to rely on the fact that Mulligan had nothing to do with asbestos, which is just a lie."

Mr Beasley responded: "Had the interim report merely been criticised in some way, it would be inappropriate for me to even comment, let alone reopen the hearings into terms of reference four.

"However, an allegation that I have made erroneous findings because I have been 'misled' or lied to in evidence given under oath is not something that can be ignored."

He said he would reopen the inquiry and took steps to have a summons to produce documents served on Mr Hadley, 2GB and certain other unnamed people.

When the hearings started again on Tuesday of this week, Mr Beasley said he had the power to hold parts of the inquiry in private.

"On the basis of certain medical evidence which will remain confidential and subject to a non-publication order, I have determined that it is appropriate to hear from at least some witnesses in this reopened hearings ... in private."

He made non-publication orders in relation to some of the witnesses' names and addresses and said he would also order non-publication of the transcript of their evidence.

The proceedings were then closed to the public.

Lawyers for council and for Mr Tooma as well as Dr Dillon, any members of the council's governing body and others who could satisfy Mr Beasley they had a "proper and sufficient interest in term of reference four" were allowed to remain.

Mr Hadley's producer, Taylah Hill, told the Gazette: "We've provided a dossier of material but Ray hasn't been asked to give evidence in person."