Department to step in over council dispute
Matthew Watts, left, and Shirley Gourgaud.
The ACT government's justice department is to intervene in the bitter battle for control of the Belconnen Community Council.
The department's Office of Regulatory Services is to investigate events leading up to the power struggle, which has resulted in two members of the council claiming to be the properly elected president of the community group.
Long-serving president Shirley Gourgaud and defeated Canberra Liberals Assembly candidate Matthew Watts are both claiming the right to the job.
Ms Gourgaud, ousted in contentious circumstances in September, says she was reinstated at Tuesday's council meeting after Mr Watts' presidency was declared void.
But Mr Watts struck back on Wednesday, claiming that he, and not Ms Gourgaud, was the one true president.
Both claimants to the council presidency now say they have advice from the Office of Regulatory Services, the government agency that administers incorporated bodies in the territory, that backs their case.
But a spokeswoman for the Office of Regulatory Services's parent, the Department of Justice and Community Safety, said on Friday the office had not provided advice that cast doubt on Mr Watts' election to the presidency.
''Some information is incorrect in that Ms Gourgaud was not advised by the Office of Regulatory Services that the September election, and Mr Watts' nomination, was not in accordance with the council's rules,'' the spokeswoman said.
''The ORS received correspondence from the Belconnen Community Council relating to procedural matters and interpretation of the Associations Incorporation Act 1991.
''The questions did not specifically mention the BCC's annual general meeting nor did they ask for a ruling on the validity of the AGM.''
But the spokeswoman said the department would investigate the circumstances that have led to the two competing claims on the presidency.
''The matters as reported in The Canberra Times indicate there are serious questions about whether the Act has been complied with, which the ORS will be looking into,'' the spokeswoman said.
''This will include consideration of the circumstances of the AGM and recent meetings held that are said to have changed the office holders of the BCC.''
The office has the power to investigate the affairs of an incorporated association if there are reasonable grounds for believing that an offence under the act has been committed, according to the spokeswoman.
She said the Associations Incorporation Act stated if an offence involves ''fraud or dishonesty or concerns the management or affairs of an incorporated association, the registrar-general may make the investigations the registrar-general thinks appropriate for the administration of this Act''.