Retired District Court Judge John Robertson has set up a service to monitor the behaviour of councillor candidates in the lead up to the local government election.
Retired District Court Judge John Robertson has set up a service to monitor the behaviour of councillor candidates in the lead up to the local government election.

Ex-judge’s council campaign conflict revealed

EXCLUSIVE:

FORMER District Court Judge John Robertson has not ruled out conducting further investigations into the Noosa Council election, despite having to sit out three probes already due to a conflict of interest with the Future Noosa campaign.

Mr Robertson, a former president of the Children's Court of Queensland and current Chair of the Queensland Sentencing Advisory Council has had to excuse himself from three reviews requested in his new role as head of the LGAQ-funded independent Council Election Observer.

The three reviews were requested by current Noosa Deputy Mayor Cr Frank Wilkie into claims made by the Future Noosa team in election brochures produced for the upcoming council election.

The Daily can reveal Mr Robertson declared a conflict of interest in the three matters due to his stepdaughter, Leigh McCready's involvement in the Future Noosa campaign, supporting the trio of Karen Finzel, Andrew Squires and David Fletcher.

Leigh McCready is involved with the Future Noosa campaign. Pic Mark Calleja
Leigh McCready is involved with the Future Noosa campaign. Pic Mark Calleja

Mr Robertson stood aside while retired Land Court Judge Wayne Cochrane investigated the matters and dismissed two of the reviews but upheld one, which found that comments in the election brochure which claimed the current Noosa councillors chose to vote as a bloc on many issues, stifling robust debate and protecting vested interests as a result, were misleading.

Mr Robertson said when the Office of the ICEO started operations in the first week of December, 2019, he had "no knowledge of any matters that might present as an issue for me in relation to conflicts of interest".

"Late on Christmas Eve 2019, following a review request from Noosa Mayor Tony Wellington regarding claims by one of the members of the Future Noosa Group, Karen Finzel, I ascertained that my stepdaughter was involved in the campaign supporting Ms Finzel's election to the council," he said.

"Cr Wellington withdrew that request on January 1 after he was advised on December 23 the matter could not be dealt with until the new year when the ICEO's office reopened from the Christmas break.

"However, on January 3, when the ICEO's office reopened Cr Wellington, the Future Noosa group and Noosa Cr Frank Wilkie, who had submitted on January 2 and 3 three requests relating to material published by Future Noosa, were advised that I had determined the office of the ICEO could not consider any review requests by or about the Future Noosa group.

"Subsequently, after consideration, I decided it was unfair for one group of candidates to be excluded from the services of the ICEO because of my personal conflict and so the services of retired Land Court judge Wayne Cochrane were secured to act in my place in relation to any review requests from or about Future Noosa.

FUTURE NOOSA: Left to right: David
FUTURE NOOSA: Left to right: David "Fletch" Fletcher, Karen Finzel and Andrew Squires who are standing in the next Noosa election under the one Future Noosa banner.

"The Future Noosa group and Councillors Wellington and Wilkie were advised of this."

Mr Robertson said as a result of the situation, any future requests involving Future Noosa would be dealt with by Mr Cochrane.

Mr Robertson indicated the conflict with Future Noosa would not prevent him undertaking other investigations involving Noosa Council.

"I am not aware of any other conflicts that may prevent my consideration of other requests involving the Noosa Council," he said.

"However, if one presents itself then I will, of course, again take the appropriate action and recuse myself."

The Local Government Association of Queensland established the Australian-first initiative in response to what it claimed was a remarkable number of attacks on individuals and councils in the 2016 local government elections via social media in particular.

The ICEO is funded by the LGAQ, but operated independently from the association.


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