Controversial Hobart councillor to receive apology after staff blocked venue booking over political beliefs (2024)

In short:

The City of Hobart has flagged its intention to apologise to councillor Louise Elliot after finding council staff had breached anti-discrimination laws by lying to her about the availability of a venue on the basis of her political views.

Cr Elliot, who has called for the exclusion of transgender women from female sports and some spaces, attempted to book the Town Hall ballroom for an event last November.

What's next?

The council's chief executive officer will provide a formal written apology to Cr Elliot after a report found she had been lied to on the basis of her political views and had her right-to-information requests "stifled".

City of Hobart's chief executive officer has found Hobart councillor Louise Elliot was discriminated against, lied to, and unfairly treated after she was blocked from booking a venue because of her political beliefs.

In September last year, Cr Elliot attempted to book the Town Hall Ballroom for an event in November which she described as a "Women's Rights and Free Speech" forum.

Cr Elliot told the ABC that the event would have been about "debating certain issues around evidence of the impact" of transgender women in women's sports and in women's prisons and shelters. She said she was not "opposed to transgender rights" but "supportive of female-only sports and some spaces".

In a speech outside Parliament House last year, she said transgender women "remain biological men" and that changing gender or becoming non-binary could be "a way for some people to gain attention and stand out".

Several speakers were to be invited who, Cr Elliot said, "advocate for women's spaces and sports", but council staff were of the belief the event would feature a talk by a well-known anti-trans activist.

Controversial Hobart councillor to receive apology after staff blocked venue booking over political beliefs (1)

Cr Elliot was subsequently told the venue was not available on the dates she had requested.

Cr Elliot made the booking as an individual and not in her role as a councillor.

In October, she made a complaint to the state's anti-discrimination body Equal Opportunity Tasmania (EOT).

Staff breached anti-discrimination laws

Following the complaint, a conciliation agreement between the City of Hobart and Cr Elliot was made.

In his report published this week on the conciliation, City of Hobart chief executive Michael Stretton said an independent investigation found council staff departed from usual practice and breached the anti-discrimination act.

"Staff acted to block the booking of the ballroom due to assumptions being made that political views about transgender people and their participation in sport and access to facilities would be discussed at the event," Mr Stretton said.

"A view was formed by staff that the event would pose an unreasonable risk to the organisation due to security and workplace health and safety considerations."

Controversial Hobart councillor to receive apology after staff blocked venue booking over political beliefs (2)

Mr Stretton said staff had formed the assumption that the event would feature a talk by anti-trans activist Kellie-Jay Keen-Minshull, also known as Posie Parker.

The report found Cr Elliot was denied the opportunity to provide more information about the nature of the event so that an appropriate risk assessment could be undertaken.

"Louise Elliot’s application to book the Town Hall ballroom was deliberately blocked without proper and due process," Mr Stretton said.

"Unfortunately, this led to Louise Elliot being lied to when she was told that the Town Hall ballroom was not available on the dates she requested for her event.

"Staff endeavoured to influence Louise Elliot to book an alternative venue including Mawson’s Waterside Pavilion or City Hall."

Mr Stretton said no elected member of the council had any involvement in, or knowledge of, the blocking of the booking.

Right to information request 'stifled'

Cr Elliot made two right-to-information (RTI) requests to the council about her booking with council, but both were rejected.

Controversial Hobart councillor to receive apology after staff blocked venue booking over political beliefs (3)

Mr Stretton said it became apparent that the staff involved in the booking process had intentionally failed to comply with the request by not providing all the information.

"Louise Elliot's RTI process was stifled on the basis that her request for a booking had not been rejected, when in fact it had," Mr Stretton said.

"On behalf of the council, I apologise for any stress, anxiety, frustration, embarrassment, and inconvenience caused by the conduct that has been outlined in this report.

"The matter will be discussed at a special council meeting on July 3, 2024, which will include an apology to Louise Elliot for the council's conduct."

Councillor 'taken aback' by findings

Cr Elliot said she believed the council has significant work to do to improve transparency practices.

"I had to get the ombudsman's involvement to even get my RTI accepted for processing," she said.

"I think in terms of ... RTI transparency, we've hit rock bottom.

"It is my understanding that it was employees that have now left the organisation that lied to the council's RTI officer repeatedly."

Cr Elliot said she has been "taken aback" by the finding of discrimination and deceit.

"It really is quite disgusting," she said.

"For me, the real issue here is ... what culture we've got in place that would enable that to happen."

Controversial Hobart councillor to receive apology after staff blocked venue booking over political beliefs (4)

Report finds 'culture of negativity'

Mr Stretton commenced the role in February this year, after the blocking of Cr Elliot's booking took place.

In the report, Mr Stretton said when he entered the organisation, it was "quickly apparent the organisation had been through a difficult period".

"Experience tells us that by working in a culture of negativity, it will inevitably have flow on effects including on the performance of the organisation and also leading to people making errors in judgement and actions," Mr Stretton said.

Mr Stretton said the events were unacceptable, and the council had been focusing on developing a constructive culture moving forward.

According to the report, the council's insurance policy covered the costs and there has been no direct cost to Hobart ratepayers.

Cr Elliot said she has "incurred significant financial legal costs" but could not confirm if she was provided any compensation due to a confidentiality agreement.

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Controversial Hobart councillor to receive apology after staff blocked venue booking over political beliefs (2024)

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