Politicians defend Latrobe mayor

TWO Gippsland-based politicians have come to the defence of Latrobe City Mayor Sandy Kam in the wake of allegations she failed to properly engage with them over the Monash University Gippsland merger issue.

Federal Member for Gippsland Darren Chester is the latest MP to speak out in support of Cr Kam and condemn calls by councillor Christine Sindt for her to step down.

“I’m very reluctant to talk about local government issues, but I feel it’s unfair to have the mayor’s reputation tarnished when at all times she has acted professionally on this and other issues,” Mr Chester said.

“I have a professional working relationship with Cr Kam and at all times she has been accessible to me and provided me with information regarding important local issues and it is insulting to suggest she hasn’t performed her duties in that respect.”

In an email to her fellow councillors, which Cr Sindt made public on social media earlier this month, she accused Cr Kam of not working hard enough to retain Monash University in Gippsland and going against the official position of the council on the Gippsland campus’s merger with the University of Ballarat.

As part of a list of grievances, Cr Sindt said Cr Kam had not attended meetings with Mr Chester on 6 May, Higher Education Minister Peter Hall on 30 April and Federal Member for McMillan Russell Broadbent on 8 May.

The mayor said she could not attend the meetings because of prior commitments, but made contact with the MPs about the Monash issue on other occasions.

Mr Chester backed her side of the story, saying she had provided him with a phone briefing and spoken to him after the meeting in lieu of attending.

“I really struggle to see what Cr Kam has done wrong when she has contacted me and let me know what council was thinking from the very first day (the university merger proposal) was announced,” Mr Chester said.

“The contrast between the way in which the mayor undertakes her duties and the manner adopted by Cr Sindt is very noticeable.

“In my last meeting with Cr Sindt regarding the Monash issue, I found her behaviour unusual to say the least and the argument she made was illogical.

“I’m hoping the entire council can put the issue behind then and focus on getting the best possible outcome for the local community and I’m confident the majority of councillors and senior staff are working in that direction,” Mr Chester said.

His comments followed a letter to The Express from Mr Hall which stated Cr Kam had met with him the day before the scheduled meeting as she knew she couldn’t attend.

Mr Hall said Cr Sindt had also failed to attend the scheduled meeting.

“I think council is entitled to have views on this and that is part of the democracy in which we live,” Mr Hall said on Friday.

“(But) to accuse somebody else of not being there when they themselves weren’t there, needed to be pointed out.”

Cr Sindt defended her absence from the meeting with Mr Hall, saying she had already accepted an invitation to attend an all-day conference in Melbourne.

She said she felt she should have had an opportunity to attend the alternative meeting along with Cr Kam the day before.

Cr Kam does not intend to step down from her position as mayor.

There is an in-principle agreement between the University of Ballarat and Monash University for UB to take over operation of most of the Gippsland campus.