Salim Mehajer leaves Auburn council chambers on Wednesday. Photo: Dominic LorrimerLess than six months since his “wedding of the year”, Salim Mehajer and the Auburn City Council convened for potentially the final time.
The council met on Wednesday to respond to last week’s announcement by Local Government Minister Paul Toole that he was giving the council 14 days to show why it should not be suspended.
Its planning decisions will come under a review by Sydney silk Richard Beasley.
An attempt by George Campbell, a member of the council’s minority bloc – the “poor four”, as Cr Mehajer has dubbed them – to welcome the minister’s move and ask that innocent councillors be spared punishment was a non-starter.
In the end, the council’s “super six” instead voted for a compromise solution.
In a response drafted by its lawyer, the council resolved to be on its best behaviour, co-operate fully with Mr Beasley’s inquiry and to refrain from all major planning decisions if allowed to keep running.
But there were some subtle swipes at the state government and muted protestations on the way.
The deputy mayor spoke against the suspension but only briefly.
“We don’t understand what the concern is,” Cr Mehajer said, regarding Mr Toole’s reasons for moving to suspend the council.
Hicham Zraika, a member of the council and Cr Mehajer’s ally, offered the most strident defence of the council’s much-criticised majority grouping.
“It would be laughable if those who are viewed to be guilty are exonerated,” he said.
Mr Zraika was last month expelled from the ALP for disloyalty. He had earlier been suspended for “unworthy conduct”, including allegedly falsifying meeting minutes. He is appealing the decision.
The council’s mayor, Le Lam, said she welcomed the inquiry but suggested it was orchestrated by council’s minority group.
“Giving information to the public and the media is how the whole thing instigated,” she said. “Now, by the end of the day, everything can come out fully.”
The minister’s letter made reference to only one case of alleged wrongdoing by the council, the sale of a council carpark to Cr Mehajer in a private deal that Fairfax Media revealed was apparently discounted by up to $5 million off its open-market value.
“It’s got to be more than that,” Cr Mehajer said. “The letter just doesn’t guide us.”
Cr Mehajer also placed on record that the car park, which a family company has applied to turn into a 100-unit complex, was in Lidcombe not, as Mr Toole had said in his letter, in Auburn.
A range of councillors, many of whom, like Cr Mehajer, have local property interests, have also been revealed to be connected directly and through relatives in a range of business ventures that have not always been disclosed to council.
The council’s next meeting is scheduled for February 17.
It remains to be seen whether it will take place.
There is no timeframe for Mr Toole to respond to council’s submission.
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