Wagga Wagga dispute


Look out, Peter Hurst could be coming to a town near you!

In December’s depaNews we announced that the long-running Wagga Wagga dispute was over. The Industrial Relations Commission on 16 December issued Orders against the Council which required them, within 28 days, to have the statement agreed between depa and the Council (and endorsed by the Commission) published in the Daily Advertiser as a paid advertisement.

But the Daily Advertiser, still stinging from the humiliation of the Press Council giving them a kicking about their failure to provide impartial reporting on the Council and planning issues anyway, refused to accept the ad. This was something neither we, the Council, nor the Commission contemplated.

In the lead up to the Commission making the Orders, Wagga Wagga had legal advice about the risks associated with publishing the ad and we had agreed on a number of changes to the wording which satisfied their concerns. Everyone was happy to have the Commission make the Orders sought.

But not the Daily Advertiser. Already found guilty by the Press Council of contravening the Press Council’s principle "that newspapers must take reasonable steps to ensure that reports are accurate" and a further principle "requiring newspapers to neutralise, in so far as possible, the damage caused by publishing harmfully inaccurate information", it’s hard to imagine what reasoning the Daily Advertiser applied in refusing to accept the ad.

We think they just like to cover up for local developers and slam the Council and its planning function regardless of the facts. It was the Daily Advertiser that provided the oxygen for unhappy builders and developers which led to the Minister for Planning issuing a Show Cause letter why the Council should not lose their planning powers. This is not just some local rag, or a Murdoch paper, this is a Fairfax newspaper, and should be complying with a higher standard.

So, instead of pursuing what the Daily Advertiser might have been prepared to publish, or to look at publishing the advertisement themselves on their own website or in alternative media, the Council didn't do anything. Perhaps the General Manager had no opinion ?

Members vote to ban services to Hurst

After a meeting of members on 11 January, we wrote to the GM encouraging him to do precisely these things and advising a meeting of members had unanimously resolved to ban all services to Peter Hurst and his company until he apologised (as he had originally said he would when the complaint was dismissed and the Commission recommended that the Council seek an apology or the Council publish the advertisement required by the Orders by the Commission.

And then the proverbial hit the fan. Instead of doing something in the interests of their employees, the Council’s General Manager Phil Pinyon gave a written direction to one of our members to find another Council which might be prepared to process the application for them. This was a direction to ignore the ban and provide some services to this unapologetic builder. This is an odd response by the General Manager when the first recommendation made by the Commission back on 11 August specifically pointed out their duty of care and that this duty extended to looking after the reputations of staff.

The GM had no option internally - there were some employees in the area who could process the application because they were not members of depa but they quickly joined to support the campaign. We started this with two members at Wagga Wagga and now we have 14.

Our members met, resolved to support the person receiving the direction and resolved that if there were any further directions to employees involved in industrial action, and potentially any adverse effect, then they would immediately go on strike. Having had enough of the General Managers pussyfooting, they also resolved unanimously that if the General Manager didn't withdraw the written direction by 2pm, they would go on strike that day.


Members on strike and other members resolve to support them

Which they did. All the GM could manage was a message explaining why he felt obliged to issue the written direction. And that wasn't good enough.

The Council asked Albury and Tumut to process the application for them. They have reciprocal arrangements where they help each other out in a time of need.

depa members at both those councils rejected the request in support of our members at Wagga Wagga and conveyed that advice to WWCC precisely in those terms. Well done, a great lesson in solidarity.

When big issues are fought over and principles established, things can get difficult and uncomfortable. We know that employees would like all the big principles established somewhere else, but sometimes you find yourself in a situation where you really have to stand and do something. That was the situation in which our members at Wagga Wagga found themselves and the support from members at the other councils is greatly appreciated.

We don't know who they will ask next. Let's hope it's not you.

There has been a considerable amount of media interest in Wagga Wagga about this. (Click here to view Prime news report from Thursday evening.) It is, after all, unusual for local government professionals to go on strike and everyone is interested to know what happens next. We don't really care.

If Peter Hurst wants his application processed, he can man up (as my daughters say) and issue the apology he taunted us with early in these proceedings. Our members will not be processing Hurst’s application at Wagga Wagga and because they won't be doing that they won't be likely to incur his wrath – nor his baseless complaints.

And then they can't be the subject of ill-informed and inaccurate allegations which, we know from his previous form, he thinks he can make with impunity against a vulnerable target, and even when dismissed, refuses to apologise and tries to laugh it off.

On local ABC radio this morning he said he would apologise but only after an independent investigation. Come on mate, you were prepared to on 13 October, get it out of the way and everyone can get back to work.

And here, is what Wagga Wagga was ordered to have published, in the form they submitted it, to the Daily Advertiser

But first, we need to make clear that this is a draft apology put to Peter Hurst that would be the subject of discussion and potential agreement. A quick summary:

11 August 2010, Deputy President Grayson made a Statement and Recommendations aimed at resolving this dispute. The link is in our September issue.

Critically, for the purposes of the apology, Deputy President Grayson said this:

IRC ruling Hurst












The Council wrote to Peter Hurst on 13 August and 12 October. In response, Hurst directed local solicitors Walsh & Blair to advise the Council that he was prepared to apologise to Council staff. In a letter dated 13 October they wrote:

Hurst response letter













That was good news. What an admirable man.

A meeting of depa members in Wagga Wagga on 21 October endorsed a draft apology which was that day also accepted by the General Manager as reasonable. At our meeting he indicated some surprise at its reasonableness. No one should underestimate how reasonable we can be.

Hurst’s agreement to apologise was advised to the Commission on 4 November and Deputy President Grayson issued a further Statement and made the following observation:

IRC observation Hurst










Well, sadly it didn't. For reasons not expressed (because Walsh & Blair get all coy and "in confidence" in future correspondence to the Council) Mr Hurst changed his mind.

The advertisement the subject of Orders by the Commission contains the apology the members would have liked, the General Manager thought reasonable, the Commission thought "a reasonable draft" and it is published, in the form presented by the Council to the Advertiser, below:



Copyright © 2024 The Development and Environmental Professionals' Association (depa). All Rights Reserved. Webdesign: Dot Online