By Lauren O’Connor
Mayor Sally Betts is under investigation by Waverley Council over a character reference she gave to convicted rapist Luke Lazarus.
The Waverley community is in uproar after revelations Ms Betts defended Mr Lazarus “out of loyalty to the family,” by pushing for a non-custodial sentence.
Bondi Beach Precinct Committee lodged a formal code of conduct complaint last week and council General Manager Arthur Kyron has launched an investigation into the matter.
Calls for her to step down as Mayor are intensifying. A spokesperson for Mr Kyron said he could not comment because an internal council investigation into the matter was underway.
Lenore Kulakauskas, a member of the Bondi Beach Precinct Comittee said Clr Betts involvement in the case was discussed at a meeting on April 13.
“I can tell you that the Bondi Beach Precinct did lodge a code of conduct complaint about Mayor Sally Betts with the General Manager. It was ratified at the meeting last night,” Ms Kulakauskas said.
“Every resident that I had spoken to and everyone who was there last night was unhappy with it. Hopefully it will be dealt with relatively quickly. Because of the nature of what happened, it is casting a pall over Waverley Council,” she said.
Bank of Sydney Chairman Nick Pappas and Greek Orthodox priest Fr Gerasimos Koutsouras were among the referees who vouched for Luke Lazarus’ character.
As a friend of the Lazarus family, Clr Betts urged the court to consider an alternative sentence to jail.
“The conviction is inconsistent with the gentle, well-mannered and respectful young man that I know,” she is quoted as saying.
The sexual assault occurred in 2013 in an alleyway in Kings Cross behind Mr Lazarus’ father’s nightclub Soho.
The 5-year-jail term was handed down in late March; he is eligible for parole in 2018.
Karen Willis, CEO of Rape and Domestic Violence Services Australia, has encouraged the DPP to review the sentencing.
She said the victim would have expected a longer sentence and “would have been appalled” by the high profile character references.
“To have people question [you], but also then to make statements about how much of a good bloke he was and how he comes from a good family, that would have been quite an insult to someone who knew what he was absolutely capable of,” Ms Willis said.
“One of the things we know about sexual assault is that being believed is critically important to recovery. To then add to that the high profile of the young man and the wealth of the family, their capacity to employ the barristers from the top end, then attract the kind of references that he was able to attract; I think is quite concerning.”
Waverley resident Marcella McAdam said a Facebook campaign ‘Stand Down Sally’ now has a substantial following and council has been dealing with complaints.
“The General Manager has confirmed that he was inundated with very distressed emails and letters of concern not just from residents but from other victims. It was disappointing she couldn’t see the long term impact writing that character reference would have,” Ms McAdam said.
She said residents are shocked at the apparent conflict of interest between the Lazarus family’s business interests and Mayor Betts’ statement.
“She is supposed to be a leader in our community. She is supposed to be a woman that should be supporting the victim, not the sons of wealthy business owners in Bondi Junction,” she said.
Mayor Sally Betts was approached for comment but did not respond in time for this article.