Cairns councillors' rift deepens with $300,000 legal threat
A CAIRNS councillor accused of misconduct has started legal action against the fellow councillor who reported him, lodging a defamation claim for $300,000 in damages.
Court documents filed on behalf of Cr Sno Bonneau say claims raised by Cr Rob Pyne have caused distress and embarrassment. When told of the civil action Cr Pyne said: "When I stood for the council, I promised to act as a watchdog and stand up for transparency and accountability. This will not change." But Cr Bonneau said the matter may never proceed to the courtroom because he was waiting for the outcome of a State Government investigation into the allegations before serving Cr Pyne with the lawsuit.
The investigation by the Crime and Misconduct Commission and Department of Local Government and Planning had lasted a year, and the department could not say when any determination would be made. "The proceedings have been filed to keep my claims within the 12-month limitation period but (they) may never be served or acted upon," Cr Bonneau said, referring to the one-year deadline imposed on defamation action in Queensland courts.
His claim related to a dossier collated and circulated by Cr Pyne in February last year, which included allegations that Cr Bonneau had taken cash donations from developers and business owners and then failed to declare a conflict of interest when the council made decisions relating to the donors.
In the statement of claim, Cr Bonneau alleged Cr Pyne’s accusations, which were also published in The Cairns Post in February last year, painted him as corrupt, unfit to remain as a councillor and unethical.
"General damages are sought to vindicate the reputation of the plaintiff (and) compensate the plaintiff for distress and embarrassment caused to him," the claim stated. Aggravated damages are being sought on the "falsity of the matter complained of", the "maliciousness" of the dossier and Cr Pyne’s alleged "intention to publicly diminish the standing and credibility of the plaintiff".
Cr Pyne said he was disappointed in the length of time it was taking to finalise the investigation, but he stood by the allegations. "I’m sure the outcome of the investigation will vindicate me," he said.
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In a modern democracy it is so important that the safeguards set up to protect its fragile state operate with efficiency within a reasonable time limit. Allegations made against Bonneau by Pyne were submitted for investigation almost a year ago. As at the time of this posting the investigation is still underway and no time limit has been set for the decision.
This matter must be determined as soon as possible and certainly before nomination for the Cairns Regional Council election are called for. It would be untenable if the decision was handed down after the election at which Bonneau was successful. The electors have a right to know whether Bonneau has breached the Local Government Act and whether he is indeed eligible to stand.
In meantime I believe that transparency is paramount and that justice is not only done but seen to be done. Therefore, I call on the Cairns Regional Council CEO to request Bonneau to stand down while the investigation is underway.