Inner West Independent

Fresh evidence casts doubt on Inner West Mayor Darcy Byrne’s conduct

Darcy Byrne

Inner West Mayor Darcy Byrne on a street walk with new General Manager Peter Gainsford in May 2021. Photo: Facebook.

By WENDY BACON

New evidence has emerged that Inner West Mayor Darcy Byrne provided inaccurate information about his private interests in his most recent annual disclosure of interests form.

A title search shows that Byrne owns a 50% interest in a property in Allen Street, Leichhardt. This was not included in his last disclosure of interest in August 2021.

City Hub has sent a copy of the title search to the Inner West Council General Manager Peter Gainsford and the Office of Local Government.

All councillors are required to sign annual disclosures of interests. This transparency measure is designed to ensure the public is aware of the private interests of politicians and has a similar purpose to declarations of political donations.

Byrne only declared one property on his 2020/2021 disclosure form.  The address is redacted by a label which reads, “residential address has been redacted as this is personal information.” He informed City Hub through a spokesperson that the redacted address is 9 Creek Street, East Balmain. However, Byrne himself has said that he has not lived in this house for decades. This property is currently on the market and will be auctioned on August 11.

Byrne does not live in the undeclared Leichhardt property although this was previously his residence. Although he represents the Balmain-Baludarri ward, he now lives on the Ashfield side of the Inner West. He has  declared no interest in any title or lease in his current residence. If the person who is renting or owns that property was a partner or other adult relative, he would also be required to declare an interest in that property.

No rates debt declared on disclosure

Councillors are also required to disclose debts of more than $500. As has previously been reported, he has not declared rates owed on his Creek Street property to the Inner West Council (IWC) of at least $15,000. He told The Daily Telegraph that he has a ‘normal practice’ arrangement for deceased estates not to pay this until the property, which he has held in his own name for several years, is sold. This raises broader issues than those arising out of Byrne’s inaccurate disclosures including questions about the nature of this policy and how and when Byrne reached his agreement with staff.

Concerns over the Mayor’s ability to deal with issues of accountability have arisen less than one year after the NSW Civil and Administrative Tribunal suspended him for three months from the previous Council for three misconduct breaches and two partial breaches of the NSW Local Government Act code of conduct. As a penalty NCAT suspended Byrne’s right to be paid any fee or other remuneration for his duties for three months.

Byrne began campaigning to regain his position of Mayor well before the election. The election was very close. Labor’s Zoi Tsardoulias, who was in second place on Labor’s Marrickville ticket, narrowly won a position on Council from the conservative independent Macri by less than 80 votes. Macri, who served several terms as a Marrickville Councillor, unsuccessfully requested a recount.

With 38% of first preference votes and only 41% after the preference count across all four wards, Labor narrowly won control of Council with eight Councillors. There was a collapse in the conservative vote ( with no endorsed Liberal candidates) which benefited Labor. In Balmain, there was a swing against Byrne. He could not become Mayor without the support of  his seven fellow Labor councillors. So he quickly called a Labor caucus meeting and gained their backing. He was elected Mayor on a vote of 8 to 7 for two years. Five Greens councillors and two progressive Independent Councillors voted for a team of Greens Councillor Kobi Shetty as Mayor and Independent Pauline Lockie as Deputy Mayor.

In the light of fresh information about the Leichhardt property, City Hub asked Byrne a number of further questions. A spokesperson told us these could be submitted again when he returns from leave. These are in addition to earlier questions that have also not been answered. Byrne also did not avail himself of an earlier invitation to make any comment of his choosing.

Under the Local Government Act (LGA), Councillors must act “lawfully and honestly, and exercise a reasonable degree of care and diligence in carrying out their functions under the LGA or any other Act.” A councillor must not make and lodge a return that the councillor knows or ought reasonably to know is false or misleading in a material particular.

City Hub asked IWC General Manager Peter Gainsford whether he has asked Byrne to explain the gaps in the disclosure of interest and whether he has launched an investigation. He responded: “The completion of pecuniary interest forms and conflicts of interest are an obligation of the individual required to complete them. As you can appreciate Council officers are unable to be across the private personal information of individuals required to complete these forms.”

One of the obligations of General Managers is to provide professional support to Councillors. It was noted in last year’s NCAT judgement that Byrne had said that he had struggled with the application of concepts of conflict of interest and that he had requested senior officers for more training without success. Given that this was before Byrne made his latest Disclosure of Interest, City Hub asked Gainsford if he had offered the Mayor any support. This question was not specifically answered.

Letters of concern sent to Local Government Minister

City Hub is aware that letters of concern requesting an investigation have been sent to the Minister for Local Government Wendy Tuckerman. The Minister has not replied but it is understood that these letters will be sent to the Office of Local Government because the Minister must conduct herself in a way that is independent of any investigation.

In response to questions, an Office of Local Government spokesperson said, “Councillors are required to disclose their personal interests and assets and that information should be publicly available In accordance with the Model Code of Conduct. The Office of Local Government can review and potentially investigate any alleged breaches of that requirement upon receipt of a complaint. Any complaints should be made to a council’s general manager in the first instance if people have concerns.”

Five Greens Councillors Marghanita Da Cruz, Liz Atkins, Justine Langford, Kobi Shetty and Dylan Griffiths stated last week that they believed that Byrne, like all public figures, should be held accountable. Councillor John Stamolis has expressed his support for an investigation into potential breaches of the Act, both to The Daily Telegraph and City Hub.  Independent Councillor Pauline Lockie did not respond to questions.

It is not clear yet whether the General Manager has been requested to investigate complaints and whether the matter will be raised at the next IWC meeting which will be held in early August.

The Mayor is currently overseas on leave. But when he returns in August, he will be confronted by a number of problems. He will be under pressure to explain himself to other Councillors, including his fellow Labor Councillors.

Byrne has been a leader of  Labor in the Inner West for many years which means that his latest integrity problems are an unwelcome political embarrassment for Labor. Until 2019, he worked in the office of the current Prime Minister Anthony Albanese.  Residents across the progressive Inner West supported his decision to hold a well attended civic reception to celebrate the election of Albanese who has lived in the Inner West his entire life and been the local member for the seat of Grayndler since the 1990s. But Byrne goes much further than that by positioning himself as close as possible to the Prime Minister. He features two photos of  himself with Albanese at the top of his facebook page.

So far, seven other Labor Councillors who supported Byrne’s reelection to Mayor despite the previous findings of misconduct have remained silent.

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