depa v Narrabri Shire Council in historic Supreme Court victory

Well, it doesn’t get much better than this. It’s one thing to be part of a Combined Unions High Court triumph back in December 2018 but it’s another thing entirely to run and win a case on our own behalf - in defence of a member unfairly sacked under the Standard Contract, by a GM who is at the same time the President of Local Government Managers - stopping the tyrants who unfairly sack senior staff and want their handiwork to remain unexamined.

On 19 October, Associate Justice Harrison in the NSW Supreme Court handed down her Judgment in a case where Narrabri Council/GM had argued that the Supreme Court did not have jurisdiction to deal with the sacking of an employee on the senior staff standard contract. This was a response to action taken by depa in support of Tony Meppem, a well-known and well-respected Narrabri local, who worked most of his life at the Council.

Section 106 Unfair Contracts of the Industrial Relations Act 1996 had formerly been administered under the Industrial Relations Commission until the Government in 2016 sliced off their judicial role and added it to the Supreme Court. This was almost universally condemned and opposed - apart from the wanton dismantling of Australia’s longest-operating industrial jurisdiction, the Supreme Court is less user-friendly, slower, more expensive and significantly, a costs jurisdiction where the loser invariably pays.

The Judgement yesterday is 25 pages, but it’s the key orders on the first page that contain the great news:

Narrabri Shire Council was the defendant, we were the plaintiff and Narrabri has been ordered to pay our costs - meaning that Narrabri Shire, with an operational deficit for the last five years and a projected deficit this the year of $1.8 million will need to stump up something like $80,000 or $90,000 in costs. All from a case that should not have been run, and as the matter continues now in conciliation, the Council’s costs will continue. A quick settlement will better manage their continuing costs. (Gratuitous advice, Stewart)

The capricious waste of Council money on this case is consistent with the shambles of both Meppem’s appointment and termination. He was forced to sign the standard well before the position was resolved to be Senior Staff by the Council under section 332(1) (not just inappropriate but a matter of significant concern to the OLG as the regulator) and the termination, where the GM failed in his obligations under section 337 to first consult “with the Council” before any dismissal in failing to contact all councillors as required under the Act. This failing was reinforced in a subsequent specific and targeted circular from OLG to the industry and, as we understand it from local informants, the GM has been given a bit of a kicking (metaphorically) by OLG about both the appointment and dismissal processes. ‘Tis but a scratch, clearly.

The judgement yesterday is good news for those of us who have contested and tried to prevent the introduction of term contracts -  for us, as far back as 1987. It’s also good news for the other unions; current senior staff now comforted that there is a jurisdiction to test the unfairness of terminations; future senior staff who can now feel more comfortable in their careers and trajectory to the top; those members of Local Government Professionals/Managers who don’t support the LGP President Todd in his defence of unfair practices; the Office of Local Government, the Minister for Local Government and the Government now having the confirmation and certainty of a jurisdiction under section 106 in the Supreme Court; for those in the employers’ organisation, LGNSW, who support fairness in the employment of senior staff; and local government employees generally - because you never want your boss to feel that their employment is tenuous or high risk, because it distorts the way they want to employ everyone else.

The judgement is bad news for Narrabri GM Stewart Todd, who was responsible for taking the jurisdictional argument, Local Government Professionals President Todd because more members of LGP will be pleased about this result than if he had won, the community of Narrabri who have to pay for the folly, and other tyrants who support unfair employment practices across the industry.

Some great news to ward off the COVID blues.

“Self-inflicted but I’ve had worse”

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