Cr Byrne said he had an “incorrect impression” of what was meant by a significant, non-pecuniary conflict of interest when the breaches occurred and conceded he “didn’t have the understanding that I should have”.
“I accept I got it wrong. I did think I was acting in the right way but I wasn’t. It was a bad error from me and I need to learn from it.”
Office of Local Government barrister Matthew Cobb-Clark argued the breaches warranted a term of suspension.
“When one makes a statement about the allegations being ‘trumped up’ … that attitude, in my submission, makes it much more likely the same conduct will happen again,” Mr Cobb-Clark said.
“It’s concerning that Mr Byrne frankly acknowledged in cross-examination that, until the tribunal’s relatively recent decision, [he] did not have a sufficient appreciation of what a non-pecuniary conflict of interest was.”
Barrister Ian Latham, acting for Cr Byrne, suggested he was “not alone” in not having fully understood what a non-pecuniary interest was as the relevant legislation was “cryptic” and unclear.
He said a reprimand or an order for counselling was an appropriate penalty for Cr Byrne, who was “unquestionably otherwise of good character”.
“He has a significant role in the community and he has learnt from his experiences.”
Cr Byrne was elected the inaugural mayor of the then-newly merged Inner West Council in 2017 and intends to run again.
He told the tribunal he sought advice from council staff as to whether he would be eligible to stand for election as mayor if he was suspended but “they can’t confirm at this stage and would need to get advice”.
Mr Latham said the voting numbers on the council were “very finely balanced” and a suspension could have a “very significant impact” on Cr Byrne’s chances of returning to the mayoralty.
Mr Cobb-Clark said the timing of the election “was unfortunate but it’s not a relevant consideration for the tribunal.”
Tribunal principal member Linda Pearson reserved her decision.
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