BY ALEC SMART
Protestors calling for the resignation of Deputy Mayor Julie Passas disrupted an Inner West Council (IWC) meeting after the controversial councilor delayed her appearance by several hours.
On 12 December, approximately 10 protestors bearing rainbow-coloured signs saying ‘Please Resign’ were admitted to the Council chambers in a public protest over allegations that the Deputy Mayor is hostile to the LGBTI community.
The protest came about over an allegation that Cr Passas abused and intimidated a gay neighbour when she saw a rainbow flag hanging on his balcony.
Ashfield resident Daniel Comensoli posted an accusation on Facebook on November 25 that Ashfield Councillor and Deputy Mayor Julie Passas used homophobic insults and repeatedly demanded, over the course of several days, that his rainbow flag be removed.
Comensoli claimed the initial confrontation took place on the day of the same-sex marriage plebiscite result 10 days earlier, when it was revealed 61.6 per cent of Australians had voted ‘Yes’ to allow same-sex couples to marry.
Jack London, spokesperson for the group attending Tuesday’s IWC meeting said they had been granted permission to protest by Mayor Darcy Byrne.
“All we wanted was to be heard. Daniel is a friend of ours and we wanted to show our support for him. However, Mayor Darcy Byrne didn’t provide that opportunity.
“The Council meeting started at 6.30pm. We sat quietly through condolences then expected to be able to say something about Julie Passas when a motion of No Confidence came up in the meeting agenda, but councilor Passas didn’t show up.
One of her minions, Tom, we believe was on the phone to her, and someone reported they saw her elsewhere in the building smoking a cigarette, avoiding us.”
A City Hub reporter attending the IWC meeting observed the protestors became agitated after Mayor Byrne didn’t raise the No Confidence motion they believed was on the Council’s agenda. Instead, he passed a motion to grant free use of council premises for 100 days to same-sex couples wishing to marry.
It became apparent to the protestors that their opportunity to challenge Cr Passas and her alleged homophobia was being thwarted by the Mayor, so they began to heckle him.
“Where is the Deputy Mayor? Where is Julie? We don’t want to deal with a homophobic Deputy Mayor, the one you and Labor voted for!” they taunted Mayor Byrne.
Further chants including “Farcy Farcy” and “Hey ho, homophobia has to go!” were called out and the protestors assembled behind the Mayor’s bench with their signs until the Mayor inevitably suspended the meeting.
“Mayor Darcy Byrne shut down the Council meeting for 15 minutes,” London confirmed. “We went to the pub for a drink while we waited for the Deputy Mayor to show up, but when we returned we found we’d been locked out of the building.”
Liberal Councillor Passas, 69, a retired former cleaning business and coffee shop proprietor, is an assertive figure and has a notoriously combative history – which City Hub revealed last week. She is also the secretary of the body corporate of the housing complex in which her rainbow flag-hanging neighbor Daniel Comensoli lives, where she herself has resided since 2013.
She denies Comensoli’s allegations of homophobic abuse, despite claims that Ashfield police, to whom Comensoli levelled a formal complaint, were there to witness one of the altercations.
When City Hub approached the Inner West Council for comment after the abuse allegations were raised, a spokesperson replied, “Council has received a formal complaint regarding the incident, which has been referred to Council’s Independent Ombudsman for review.
“As the matter is before the Ombudsman, it is inappropriate for anyone from Council to comment further.”
IWC Green Party councilors have been informed that if they persist in presenting a vote of No Confidence in Cr Passas at future council meetings, they will be in breach of the legal procedure that grants Passas the right to privacy while the Ombudsman makes his investigation.