Byrne vows to remain Mayor despite “abuse of power” claims

Inner West Mayor Darcy Byrne poses in front of dummy 'cheque' to be signed by NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian and NSW Deputy Premier John Barilaro for $24 million – the amount he says Inner West Council missed out on due to the Berejiklian Government's alleged "pork barrelling". Photo: Darcy Byrne/Facebook.

By DAMIEN NOVAK

Beleaguered Inner West Mayor Darcy Byrne has vowed to remain in the job despite a local government watchdog accusing him of a serious “abuse of power” over a 2019 council meeting where he used a council vote to quash unflattering social media posts about him.

The NSW Office of Local Government (OLG) last week said Byrne failed to declare a significant non-pecuniary interest during a motion to force an apology from two councillors whose Facebook followers made comments on their pages, which, Byrne claims, painted him as “corrupt”.

In response to a draft development control plan for the Victoria Road precinct in Marrickville, followers of Councillors Colin Hesse and Pauline Lockie had accused Byrne and other councillors of being “in bed with developers”.

Byrne said the councillors should take responsibility for the comments made on their pages and put forward a motion – which was passed – calling on Hesse and Lockie to apologise.

However, the OLG said last week the 2019 incident was a misuse of council resources to “address personal grievances”, which gave Byrne “tangible advantages in defamation proceedings foreshadowed by him”.

OLG barrister Matthew Cobb-Clark told the NSW Civil and Administrative Tribunal (NCAT) that it was “an abuse of power”.

At Tuesday night’s Extraordinary Inner West Council meeting about rates harmonisation, Liberal Councillor Julie Passas moved a motion calling on Byrne to stand down as Inner West Mayor over the issue.

“I am asking, Mr Mayor, that you voluntarily stand down from this Council … until the outstanding complaints against you are resolved,” she told the meeting.

Byrne ruled Passas’ motion “out of order” and claimed it was a breach of the Local Government Act, calling her move “a much more serious breach than the trumped-up charges the Office of Local Government have brought against me”.

Passas, however, said her motion was “in the interests of the Inner West community and the function of this council”, and claimed she had sought legal advice before tabling it.

Later, on Facebook, Byrne stated: “Having been undemocratically removed from office once before, when Mike Baird abolished our Councils, I’m not going to be intimidated.”

He alleged he was the victim of a Liberal Party plot to remove him because of his role in “blowing the whistle on the Government’s $252 million Council grants slush fund”.

The Berejiklian government was last year accused of “pork barrelling” by Byrne and a host of ALP figures for directing $252 million in grants mainly to local councils in Coalition-held electorates.

In November, the Premier said that while the government’s council grants may have shored up Coalition votes, the practice of pork barrelling was “not illegal”.

She claimed 95 per cent of the grants handed out through the program went to Coalition-held seats, because “there are more Coalition seats than any other”.

Byrne maintains that Inner West Council was cheated out of more than $20 million because of the alleged “pork barrelling”.

“I call on Gladys Berejiklian to stop the witch hunt and sit down with me to discuss how the $24 million the Inner West was cheated out of will be returned,” he said yesterday.

If found guilty of misconduct, Byrne will likely have to stand down as Inner West Mayor.

The tribunal has reserved its decision.