It has been 10 weeks since the last Crikey update on Manningham City Council when racism claims were flying after Greens councillor David Ellis opposed the proposed tripling of the Chinese nursing home chaired by deputy mayor Fred Chuah in a “green wedge” zone where such development is expressly prohibited.

Since then, the deputy mayor has remained out of site due to ill-health, thus delaying investigations into the situation, but his Labor ward colleagues were back playing the race card with vigour at last week’s public council meeting.

It all started when Cr Ellis expressed reservations about the proposed cultural diversity policy on the basis that we’d had sod all public response to the draft and it contained a proposal to spend $30,000 investigating the possibility of spending millions building a dedicated multicultural centre.

Cr Ellis ended up voting in favour of a unanimously backed policy but it is worth listening to his words given the explosions that followed.

Labor councillor Ivan Reid, who had just returned from a private holiday to China with Labor mayor Charles Pick, attempted to get one of the council officers to comment on whether Cr Ellis was just like Pauline Hanson. The transcript reads as follows:

CR REID: Does Ms Haddock think …

MAYOR PICK: in her role as community services director?

CR REID: yes, in her role as director of community services and so on, that the views expressed by councillor Ellis might be shared by Pauline Hanson, and what’s the definition of …

MAYOR PICK: That is out of order! Councillor Reid, sit down. Withdraw the question. It’s completely out-of-order.

CR REID: I do apologise and withdraw the question

MAYOR PICK: OK, that’s enough!

CR REID: I do want to know what a redneck is though.

MAYOR PICK: you apologise for that comment too and withdraw it. It’s not appropriate.

Having supposedly laid down the law against inflammatory comments, the mayor then vacated the chair and entered the fray himself with a speech supporting the cultural diversity policy, which opened with the comment that he was “rather upset and annoyed with Councillor Ellis” and finished with the observation that “we should never, ever, ever be colour-blind racists”.

When it came to councillor questions without notice at the end of the meeting after the local News Ltd reporter had gone home, Cr Ellis opened up with three to the mayor about the need to be able to debate policy freely without being labelled a racist.

Cr Reid then followed up with this extraordinary question to Cr Ellis:

“Genuinely in the spirit of extending an olive branch wishing to understand his concerns, I note that he seems to be particularly sensitive on matters of race and suggestions that racism exists in our community and even, perhaps, heaven forbid, himself.  Why is that?”

Cr Ellis, an eloquent and progressive Green who is the last person I’d label a racist, somehow managed to keep his cool in describing the question as “particularly nasty and loaded with innuendo”.

Given the need to independently chair council meetings, mayors don’t usually ask questions of other councillors but Charles Pick broke with convention and finished the evening with the following convoluted question to Cr Ellis:

“I would like to ask in the spirit of candid conversations and candid questions and frank statements, do you believe it’s fair for councillors to be able to describe policies in term of the implications of what they adopt, straightly and bluntly? Do you think it’s fair for councillors to play the reverse racism card which is done constantly against culturally progressive people, whenever they name the implications of a policy and then get told they are playing the race card. I find it very, very offensive, and I wonder whether you would withdraw your implications that you dreamt are inside your mind.”

This triggered an exchange about witch-hunts before the mayor used his gavel decisively to close the meeting and then, after being told he was a terrible chair, goaded Cr Ellis several times to hit him with members of the public still in the chamber.

All up, it wasn’t very edifying and the edited audio highlights and lowlights of the extraordinary meeting are available here.

Stephen Mayne is a City of Manningham councillor who was not paid for this contribution. See earlier Crikey contributions on affairs of state at Manningham.

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