Councillor Peter Shelley reprimanded by Civil and Administrative Tribunal

Mudgee councillor Peter Shelley
Mudgee councillor Peter Shelley

The Office of Local Government (OLG) has warned councillors to be cautious in their use of social media following a decision by the NSW Civil and Administrative Tribunal (NCAT) that allegations posted on Facebook by a Mid-Western Regional councillor constituted a breach of the council’s Code of Conduct.

The result relates to allegations made against Cr Shelley in an application filed February 22 this year. 

The tribunal decided to formally reprimand Councillor Peter Shelley for making allegations of corruption and conflicts of interest at a council meeting and republishing them on a Facebook page he administered.

NCAT Principal Member Titterton found that Clr Shelley’s conduct breached the council’s Code of Conduct and therefore the Local Government Act.

The post was on a Facebook page Clr Shelley administered which contained a disclaimer stating that “all views... are personal and as a ratepayer and not in any official capacity or otherwise as a councillor”.

In his judgment, Mr Titterton rejected Clr Shelley’s disclaimer saying: “The Facebook post was inextricably linked to Clr Shelley’s work as a councillor and the carrying out his functions as a councillor.

“This is obvious by the very nature of the publication, which a posting of the very speech, virtually verbatim, that he made in the council chamber the day before.

“The judgement shows that a disclaimer will not absolve councillors from their responsibilities and obligations under the Code of Conduct and the Local Government Act.”

“I find therefore Clr Shelley was carrying out his functions as a council official when he published the Facebook post ...”

In a Facebook post on his KandosRylstone 2 Towns but 1 Community Facebook page, Cr Shelley responded to the ruling.

“I have been found to have breached the code of conduct, he said.

“I can’t argue against their findings or find fault in their decision. I will receive a reprimand for answering honestly and with all due diligence to being accountable to my community. Thankfully this far less than the OLG submission for suspension.

“What I said in Council and on this page, in this matter, is not in question or disputed it’s the fact that I answered a question honestly in Council in my role as a Councillor and published what I said on this page which accordingly, as now determined, is also in my role as a Councillor. I will of course word anything on this page with more thought while still getting my point across.”

OLG Chief Executive Tim Hurst welcomed the decision and said the case should serve as a warning to all councillors using social media.

“This is a decision with significant implications for councillors in the execution of their public roles,” Mr Hurst said.

“Social media is now a fundamental means of communication and engagement. It is a useful tool for councillors to reach their communities but they need to understand that its use has bearing on their civic work and potential consequences if they don’t use it appropriately.

“The judgement shows that a disclaimer will not absolve councillors from their responsibilities and obligations under the Code of Conduct and the Local Government Act.”