Brisbane councillors trade allegations over inappropriate behaviour in chambers

Brisbane City Council meeting standards have been called into question after a heated exchange between opposition councillors.

Walter Taylor LNP councillor James Mackay has been observed turning in his chair numerous times this year when Nicole Johnston, the independent candidate from the neighbouring Tennyson Ward, spoke.

He has also been observed turning his back when Morningside Ward councillor Kara Cook (Labor) and Gabba Ward’s Jonathan Sriranganathan (Greens) spoke.

Cr Johnston has had an acrimonious relationship with the LNP-majority council since she quit the party 12 years ago to become an independent.

In a fiery statement to the chambers on November 1, Cr Johnston called out Cr Mackay’s actions.

“I am putting it on the record because his behaviour is disturbing me,” she said.

“To most people [Cr Mackay turning his back] might be a small or immature action but to me, this is part of an ongoing pattern of behaviour by Cr Mackay towards me that is disturbing, weird and inappropriate.”

Nicole smiles outside a home.
Tennyson Ward Councillor Nicole Johnston.(ABC News: Curtis Rodda)

Brisbane City Council chairman and LNP member David McLachlan said council meeting rules permitted a councillor to turn their back on another councillor speaking in the chamber.

Cr Johnston was reprimanded in the meeting for doggedly pursuing discussion of the allegations and not returning to her original topic of discussion after repeated requests she do so by Cr McLachlan.

In the discussion, Cr Mackay said he felt “unsafe” and that Cr Johnston “bullied” him.

Noting the rising tensions in the room, Enoggera Ward LNP councillor Andrew Wines called for a 10-minute break to allow his colleagues to calm down after the two had their say.

Cr McLachlan agreed and adjourned the meeting for a period of time.

When councillors returned, Cr Mackay was not present because he was attending a civic reception that evening.

A profile image of James Mackay
Brisbane City Councillor James Mackay.(Supplied: Facebook)

In response to Cr Mackay’s claims of bullying, Cr Johnston said, “I’ve done nothing to Cr Mackay”.

She also said she would not “accept any sort of reprimand by Cr McLachlan regarding this matter”.

“In any other workplace, if there was a meeting of colleagues and one of them permanently sat with their back to you while you spoke, those persons would no longer be employed,” Cr Johnston also said.

Later that evening, Cr Mackay returned to the meeting and Cr Johnston asked him to withdraw comments he had earlier made about feeling unsafe and bullied.

Cr Mackay refused and was also reprimanded by Cr McLachlan.

“I don’t appreciate the way I’m treated. I made it pretty clear I feel unsafe and bullied in my workplace,” Cr Mackay said.

Labor, Greens note behaviour

Labor Opposition leader Jared Cassidy said he had noticed Cr Mackay turning his back and felt confident “it was a deliberate act to do that”.

Cr Sriranganathan had also noticed Cr Mackay’s behaviour in council meetings and, while it was permitted by the rules, he called it “rude and unprofessional” conduct that went “far beyond the rough and tumble of politics”.

A Brisbane City Council spokesperson responded to questions from the ABC.

“Anyone who has watched council proceedings would know that Cr Johnston is always a key contributor whenever robust debate occurs in the chamber,” they said.

The ABC also sent a list of questions to Cr Mackay to which he did not respond.

At the start of the November 8 council meeting, chairman Cr McLachlan reminded councillors to act respectfully.

Since then, Cr Mackay has not turned his back on opposition speakers.

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