Local Politics: The good, the bad and the ugly


Local politics has been a long-standing interest of mine – some would say this is an over-developed interest.

I recently wrote about this, generally at the state level, and more specifically at the local (Kyogle) level. My article was published in the Nimbin Good Times – page 13 of the March edition. This is here:


I have copied the text in below, which also includes links to the sources I have used.


Local government, we often hear, is the level closest to the people. Roads, rates and rubbish for sure, but these days Councils have a far greater role. Along with environmental protection and supporting local economic development among other functions, the local level is far more complex than most people recognise.

Even fewer people understand the often arcane processes and procedures that accompany this complexity. Local government is easily ignored and readily pilloried, yet widely defended when amalgamations are mooted. They might be bastards, but at least they are our bastards.

This is also the tier of government that nurtures wider political ambitions and local fiefdoms. Big frogs in small ponds. Here’s what happened in one local small pond over the last couple of years.


The sudden sacking of the Kyogle Council General Manager in December 2023 led to a community petition to the Minister for Local Government seeking his intervention to sack the council, appoint an administrator and conduct an enquiry into the GM’s sacking.

Staff have unanimously moved a motion of no-confidence in the Councillors behind the sacking and there is talk of a community class action lawsuit to have those Councillors made responsible for the $330,000 payout to the GM.

A ripe old mess, but it’s worth back-tracking a little to get a clearer picture.


Kyogle Council is divided into three wards of three Councillors each. At the December 2021 elections there were a total of just 12 nominations for the nine Councillor positions. In one ward the three nominations were all sitting councillors, returned without the bother of an election.

At the first Council meeting after the election, a majority of Councillors elected Councillor Kylie Thomas as mayor, This surprised many people with disappointment and public protest at the replacement of Councillor Danielle Mulholland, who had held the position for the previous six years.

The election of Thomas was, however, a proper process and properly followed, though deviation from proper process was soon to set in.

In April 2022, just a few months into the new term of Council, an Extraordinary Meeting was called with just one agenda item. As this was a personnel matter it had to be dealt with in Closed Session.          

Under the Local Government Act the only staff the Mayor has any control over is the General Manager. This was widely interpreted as an attempt to sack Graham Kennett, who had worked for Kyogle Council for 24 years, the last seven as GM.

Something of a staff and public revolt took place. Mayor Thomas, along with her four supporting Councillors, backed down.

At this meeting Council resolved that any concerns raised by Councillors about the General Manager’s performance be raised through the General Manager’s existing Performance Review Committee ‘… as required under the General Manager’s contract.’             

Note this was an existing committee, and note also the words I have italicised. Clearly, following proper process was seen to be optional.

This skirmish took some political skin, with Mayor Thomas apologising for the distress caused and blaming Facebook for the drama and mayhem. Later on she said there had been a request for a frank discussion around the GM’s contract but it was leaked to the community and took on a life of its own.

This is disingenuous; a mushroom farming approach to communicating with the public. Feed them bullshit and keep them in the dark.  A publicly available meeting agenda cannot be said to have been leaked.

Fast forward to December 2023 and the last Council meeting until February 2024. As the end of the meeting drew close Mayor Webster (having changed her name from Thomas) introduced an agenda item of URGENT BUSINESS WITHOUT NOTICE. This was to consider the employment contract of the GM.

Being a personnel matter it was required to be dealt with in Closed Session. After ten minutes of closed session the Mayor read out resolutions. Firstly that GM Graham Kennett was to be dismissed, effective immediately, with a 38 week payout.  Secondly an interim GM be appointed for a period up to 18 months, effective from the next day.

The new General Manager, Brett Kelly, was at the time, CEO of the Australian Mango Industry Association (AMIA). Based in Brisbane, he would continue to hold that position for an unspecified period. Two jobs, essentially.

It seems Mayor Webster and her supporting Councillors had learnt the lessons from their previous failure, with neither the remaining four Councillors, or any staff or members of the public having any fore warning. This action was pre-planned, executed with precision, and despite howls of protest from other Councillors and a couple in the public gallery, little trouble.

In providing no explanation, Mayor Webster has drawn heavily on confidentiality provisions of the Local Government Act and clauses from Council’s Code of Meeting Practice.

A week later Mayor Webster addressed a crowd gathered outside council offices for a couple of minutes, showing grit and determination, to withstand the jeering and heckling she received throughout.

Mayor Webster did herself no favours in providing no extra information and telling people they didn’t understand how local government works. She did herself an active disservice, when on returning to the Council building for the meeting, she stood at the door and bowed.

Since then the level of community angst would appear to be waning, as is the norm in matters of upheaval. Mayor Webster and supporting Councillors have disarmed any community demands for answers or explanations, making good use of closed sessions where the public gallery is cleared.

To make matters more interesting, interim GM Brett Kelly has resigned. A senior staff member has been appointed the new interim GM. The Minister has received the petition but with Council elections due in September this year he is likely to leave it for the community to pass judgement at that time.


The small number of candidates for the 20231 elections in Kyogle Council should have been seen as a warning sign by Council and the community. Local democracy needs a representative range of candidates for a contest of ideas and less of a winner-take-all numbers game.

Council could have seen this as an opportune time to urge the citizens of Kyogle to take an active interest in local government and to seriously consider the need for more candidates at the next election in September 2024. With encouragement from Council, civil society organisations of all types – sporting, cultural, business and environmental groups, churches and faith groups – might have bought this issue to the attention of their membership.

And now, with just over six months before the next election, Council has that opportunity. If the desire is there.

Kyogle is far from isolated in this regard. Of the 124 NSW councils where elections were held in 2021, 54 had less than two candidates for each position. This can only be bad for local democracy.

And it may affect performance. Councils who do not attract enough candidates for a contest of ideas, and to provide choice for electors, are likely to be more prone to suffer complacency, leading to under-performance or malfunction. This is mainly a problem for the smaller regional and rural areas.

There are many reasons for the small number of candidates but the poor financial return likely tops the list. Councillors are not paid a salary, but a fee, set by a Remuneration Tribunal. And it’s a low fee. At the lower end of the scale, small rural councillors including Kyogle, receive between $10-13,000 per annum.

In its 2023 report the NSW Remuneration Tribunal noted ‘there would be merit in a comprehensive review of the framework for mayor and councillor remuneration.’ If local democracy is to be valued, that needs to be addressed as a priority.

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