Councillor Christine Sindt to face conduct panel

An independent panel will be called to consider whether Latrobe City councillor Christine Sindt has breached the councillor code of conduct.

Latrobe City chief executive Gary Van Driel confirmed yesterday an application had been made for a Councillor Conduct Panel.

The Express understands the application has been lodged by three of Cr Sindt’s fellow councillors.

As part of its powers, the panel could make a finding of misconduct, direct a councillor to make an apology or take a leave of absence not exceeding two months.

However, Mr Van Driel did not reveal details of the application, the complaints made against Cr Sindt, or the section of the code of conduct referred to.

“Provision of any further information is at the discretion of the Councillor Conduct Panel,” Mr Van Driel said.

“It is important that council continues to allow the procedures to occur without fear or favour, and therefore no further comments will be made on specific matters.”

Cr Sindt’s behaviour has drawn community criticism since early March when she opposed the symbolic declaration of the Latrobe Valley as a Refugee Welcome Zone.

She has since made controversial posts on her official councillor Facebook page referring to Islam.

In an interview with ABC Melbourne radio host Jon Faine, when asked whether she distinguished the difference between the Islamic community and radical extremists, she replied “to me, it’s pretty much the same”.

She later attended the Reclaim Australia Rally in Melbourne on Easter weekend. Her behaviour prompted community calls for State Government intervention and drew criticism from fellow councillors, Federal Member for Gippsland Darren Chester, State Member for Morwell Russell Northe and Local Government Minister Natalie Hutchins.

Some community members have supported Cr Sindt’s views.

In April, a mediator was appointed following requests for Cr Sindt to remove certain posts from her official Facebook page.

Responding to The Express yesterday, Cr Sindt said she had not attended mediation, maintaining she had “done nothing wrong”.

She said she believed her public comments had not breached the councillor code of conduct.

“In radio comments I have answered questions truthfully and I believe correctly,” Cr Sindt said.

“If I answer a question truthfully I don’t believe that’s breaching a councillor code of conduct.

“I think the Facebook page gives people an opportunity to air their opinions and ask me questions to which I can respond in a public fashion. I see it as a wonderful open dialogue.”

It is now up to the Municipal Association of Victoria to appoint the independent two-person panel, which will be made up of one legal practitioner and one person with local government experience.

The members will be chosen from a pool of 12 people.

According to the MAV the panel can dismiss an application if it is “frivolous, vexatious, misconceived or lacking in substance”.

If the panel hears the matter, the proceedings will not be open to the public.

It is understood it will be at council’s discretion whether or not to release the decision of the panel to the public.

Council will wear the cost of establishing the panel, which according to the MAV includes $850 a day payment to the legal member of the panel and $750 a day for the municipal member, not including GST.