Local Government Minister Stirling Hinchliffe.
Local Government Minister Stirling Hinchliffe.

Minister won’t step in to force watchdog’s hand

LOCAL Government Minister Stirling Hinchliffe said he can't step in and force the council watchdog's hand in relation to investigations put on hold concerning former Ipswich councillors.

Residents will head to the polls on March 28 to vote in a new council, 18 months after Mr Hinchliffe ordered the previous administration to be sacked.

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The Office of the Independent Assessor said last month it could "revisit" investigations into former councillors if they are elected this month.

The OIA confirmed 11 investigations into former Ipswich councillors were put on hold so resources could be focused on misconduct allegations involving sitting councillors.

The watchdog would not say who exactly the investigations are about.

Three member of the sacked council team will contest the upcoming election; David Martin, Sheila Ireland and Paul Tully.

Mr Martin said he had confirmed with the OIA that none of the investigations related to him and Mrs Ireland said she does not intend to get in contact with the watchdog.

Mr Tully said he was "not aware" of any investigation but he had not made contact with the OIA.

"They're entitled to be candidates for public office and I've got great confidence in democracy," Mr Hinchliffe said.

"What I can say is the 'I' in the OIA is real. It is independent. So I don't step in. I can't step in.

"It's a matter for the Office of the Independent Assessor to make the decisions that they make about how they conduct any investigations and make any information public.

"I do understand from conversations but also from public statements the independent assessor has made, any candidates … who are the subject on ongoing investigations are at liberty to say that they are or those that are not subject of an investigation are at liberty to say that they're not.

"I encourage people to ask their candidates about that if that's an issue that's important to them."

Mr Hinchliffe said the period of administration was an "important thing" for the city.

"(But it's) important to see the return of local democracy," he said.