The County Court upheld four charges of misuse of position following an appeal by former Murrindindi Shire councillor Chris Healy in late October. This outcome reinforced the importance of the office of councillor and the laws in place to make sure information is not misused.
His Honour Judge Paul Higham heard the appeal in September in Melbourne’s County Court. Mr Healy was found guilty with four charges proven and one charge being dismissed.
In sentencing on Monday, 21 October 2019, Judge Higham ordered Mr Healy pay a $7,500 fine and contribute $35,000 towards the prosecution legal costs. His Honour, in an exercise of discretion, did not impose a conviction, noting Mr Healy’s past good character.
Judge Higham observed that in Victoria, local government depends on the voluntary contributions of councillors and the public must have confidence in councillors as a democratic system. Judge Higham made clear that the position of a councillor must not be used for gain.
Mr Healy had attempted to gain an advantage by making improper use of information acquired while a councillor, regarding Murrindindi Shire’s proposed rating strategy.
The court heard that Mr Healy was privy to information about the tenderers for a rating strategy review, which he used in submissions to council and at a meeting of a local trader and tourism association to argue against a differential commercial rate of 125%. At the time, Mr Healy owned three commercial properties in Eildon.
The Inspectorate began its investigation in March 2015 and charged Mr Healy in April 2017 with misuse of position under section 76D(1) of the Local Government Act 1989.