The Gold Coast Bulletin and Gold Coast mayor Ron Clarke are involved in an almighty brawl and Crikey correspondent Willie Whiteshoes seems to be caught up in the middle as these recent subscriber-only sealed section items explain.

Will cone of silence descend on Gold Coast City Council meetings?

Subscriber email November 3

By Willie Whiteshoes

The Gold Coast City Council knows all about putting your snout in the Local Government trough after voting itself a pay rise following a 2004 election campaign that gave no such hint of candidates feeling the pinch financially before winning their spots.

The council in recent months under new Mayor Ron Clarke has become a hotbed of political infighting to the point where council meetings are now attracting fiery exchanges between members of the public gallery and those they elected. Now two councilors want the gallery soundproofed. In fact bulletproof glass might be seen as a serious option also?

Today’s Gold Coast Bulletin reports that Crs Ray Hackwood and Bob La Castra want: “members of the public to be placed in a soundproof room so they can be seen but not heard during council meetings”. This way they felt they could conduct council business without being disturbed by a shouting public. This would be something of a first for any form of Government in Australia.

But Cr Dawn Critchlow was hardly laughing when she said the move smacked of TV spy spoof Get Smart: “It’s just like that cone of silence in Get Smart, but sillier,” she said of the proposal.

Monday’s meeting at which members in the public gallery and Councilors had verbally clashed over ratepayer funded travel, led to Acting Mayor Bob La Castra ordering the clearing of the gallery and chief executive officer Dale Dickson threatening to call the police when the onlookers refused to leave.

But it seems it’s not only the public gallery the council should worry about but various community or ratepayer groups such as the Surfers Paradise Community Association who see the council as out of control. The Association is now seeking legal opinion as they prepare to mount a case for the council to be placed in administration by the State Government.

Honorary president John Hill told Brisbane ABC Brisbane’s Steve Austin that his group is seeking submissions from the public with regard to allegations detailing possible examples of “deception and corruption” by the current council which they would present to the Minister for Local Government and the Premier Peter Beattie to get the council booted out.

“I have never seen such a disgraceful performance from a council in my life,” he said of the current council which is seriously divided into cliques – and which he says has become ungovernable.

But a cynic might suggest that it would be in the longer term interests of the Beattie Government to let the various factions continue to function as a divided council until much closer to the next election, which could then be turned to the Government’s own advantage by offering to clean up a shambles that has among its members much closer political ties to the coalition parties.

Read The Gold Coast Bulletin’s reporting on one of Australia’s more dysfunctional councils here:

Being the mayor of the Gold Coast
Subscriber email November 4

It is not often we get a Mayor appearing as a guest columnist, especially one who is threatening to sue, but former athletics legend and Gold Coast Mayor Ron Clarke, is as mad as hell and he’s not going to take it any more!

Under sustained attack from the powerful Murdoch newspaper The Gold Coast Bulletin, and to a lesser extent from our own Willie Whiteshoes who weighed in on the paper’s side in a recent article, Mayor Clarke is now under the misapprehension that our Crikey correspondent is in fact a female reporter on The Bully.

But we can assure him that this is not the case and under certain conditions we are happy for him to be in personal contact with our correspondent. In fact Willie is champing at the bit to explore with Clarke all the issues and rebuttals he raised in today’s “column”.

Naturally there’s always two sides to every story and we are more than happy to allow Ron to set the record straight today from his personal perspective – and Willie will be filing a major council update subsequently after he’s rounded up some central suspects including hopefully the Mayor to get to the guts of this unique council media war and let all sides have their say. Particularly in light of this week’s Monday meeting shambles as already noted, where councillors were calling for the public gallery to be possibly soundproofed against disruptive ratepayers attending meetings.

As will be seen from Ron’s counter attack, he makes some telling points that dispute earlier Bulletin and Whiteshoes assertions; and we won’t dare to judge right now how selective or not he has been in making his own case, let alone his attacks on Willie, The Bulletin and their editorial chief Bob Gordon. But we heartily applaud Ron for getting in and having a go to put his side of the story in Australia’s sixth biggest city where getting your story told even for a Mayor is not always on a level playing field.

Given Crikey’s self-appointed role as the Las Vegas of Australia – we’ll host your fight – we’re determined to try our very best to balance reportage of Gold Coast council politics. So Willie has taken an oath of “neutrality” in which we have implicit faith, and hopefully he can get on with the business of talking to all main parties in this media imbroglio and see if we can’t sort the wheat from the chaff by later next week in a major Crikey investigation and what presents as a lively forum for the various combatants.

We promise Ron and anyone else we will be “fair and balanced”! We only hope the Mayor will co-operate in that task in good faith, and feel free to shoot us down if he finds otherwise?

But one point surely even Ron would agree on is that while all councils have factions, the degree of enmity that is regularly reported by The Bulletin and other Queensland media among his council is not an invention.

Should any other central parties either as councilors or officials, Bob Gordon or his staff, or community associations that seem to be gathering force to take on the council, wish to contact Crikey we are more than happy to share their views with our readership.

Meanwhile, read Ron’s full and quite extraordinary spray here.

Ron Clarke spray – the fallout
Second subscriber email November 4

So, who are these “two female reporters” that feisty Gold Coast mayor Ron Clarke claims in this controversial column could be Crikey correspondent Willie Whiteshoes?

After some inquiries with the local Murdoch hacks, we reckon it is almost certainly Alice Gorman (Jones before she got married) and state political reporter and columnist Suzanne Lappeman.

Alice was the council reporter who uncovered the ‘Power bloc’ before the election, revealing the developers who admitted funding a number of council candidates. As a result she is a finalist for the regional Walkley.

We’re told Alice was unrelenting and those she pursued responded by attacking her personally, spreading rumours, writing letters to the boss and trying to get her sacked.

She is now living out in the sticks so she only works two days a week. The paper now has a new council reporter called Fiona Hamilton. She has taken up Alice’s baton and has already annoyed several councillors.

However, the assumption on the newsroom floor is that Fiona wasn’t one of the ‘pet’ reporters referred to by Mayor Clarke as Alice and Suzanne have been around the longest, were the most senior female journos and are also the most outspoken.

Lappeman has been the state political reporter for the past six years. She doesn’t do much on council unless there is a state connection but she does regularly make fun of various councillors in her columns.

The great irony of Clarke’s allegation is that Suzanne Lappeman has previously launched vitriolic attacks on Crikey’s Gold Coast correspondents. Some were just too abusive to be published but check out the last letter in this yoursay for an example.

Meanwhile, a Gold Coast fan writes:

Crikey, I just loved Ron Clarke’s spray. Whilst he’s probably not everybody’s favourite person on the Coast – he seems a lot better than Baildon and his mates who kept me entertained during “the Coastie” days. Good on him for replying on the public record. Good luck to Willie too. I hope he has the nerve to continue reporting the shenanagans.

CRIKEY: We reckon Clarke’s effort was an absolute beauty as well. By jingo, there are some good stoushes between media and governments at the moment. Maybe we should rate the conflicts in WA, the ACT and now the Gold Coast. Cosy dealings between media and governments can often lead to corruption and complacency so we applaud all the warring parties for having a go. There should be more of it. When are we going to see the Murdoch press have a decent go at the Howard Government?

Alice Gorman denies she’s Willie Whiteshoes

From the November 5 sealed section

Gold Coast Bulletin reporter Alice Gorman writes:

As I suspect I am one of the female reporters targeted in Gold Coast Mayor Ron Clarke’s dummy spit, I would like to say for the record that I am NOT Willy (or Wilhelmina) Whiteshoes.

In fact, avid readers of Crikey will note that I have previously been on the receiving end of Willy’s often inaccurate attacks.

I am not keen on publicly damaging my professional reputation – the Gold Coast City councillors have done a fine job of attempting to do that on my behalf.

Surely the mayor of Australia’s second-biggest council has more important things to do with his time than waste money tracking down Internet columnists?

Alice Gorman Reporter
Gold Coast Publications Pty Ltd