Victoria is sacking the ‘dysfunctional’ Geelong council and its celebrity mayor

Geelong mayor Darryn Lyons is being sacked by the Victorian government. Photo by Paul Jeffers/Getty Images

The Geelong city council will be sacked by the Victorian government after a three-month inquiry found it was “substantially dysfunctional” under the leadership of former paparazzi photographer Darryn Lyons.

The dismissal comes in the wake of widespread claims of bullying, with the inquiry finding that there was a “deep-seated culture of bullying within the Council and its administration”.

Geelong-born Lyons, a flamboyant former celebrity photographer for London’s tabloid papers, also known as Mr Paparazzi, was elected mayor in a popular vote in 2013.

The government’s commission of inquiry followed a report last October into workplace culture at the council by former sex discrimination commissioner Susan Halliday, which found major problems with the way staff were treated, including bullying.

Victorian local government minister Natalie Hutchins accused Geelong council of failing to address the issues raised by the Halliday report.

“The issues contained in the Commission of Inquiry’s report are of such a serious nature that the Government has no choice but to dismiss Geelong Council,” she said.

Today the local newspaper, the Geelong Advertiser, carried the story of whistleblower Dr Russell Walker, who says he was forced from his role as executive director of ­Enterprise Geelong last year because he repeatedly raised staff bullying as an issue.

But voters will not get to choose a new council for more than four years, with the Labor government deciding that rather than allowing them to choose a new council at the October 2016 elections, an administrator will be appointed for Geelong until at least October 2020.

The government says it will accept all 12 recommendations made by the Commission, including dismissal, after the report concluded that conflict at the Council meant it lacked leadership and could not provide a long term vision.

It said Geelong council’s leadership was dysfunctional, and operated in silos focused on sectional interests, while a significant number of councillors contravened their Code of Conduct.

On Melbourne radio today, Lyons, denied the council was dysfunctional.

Victorian opposition leader Matthew Guy said the sacking of Lyons, a Liberal Party member, was politically motivated.

“The Labor party has wanted to sack Darryn Lyons for 12 months,” he said.

The city of 200,000 people, 72km southwest of Melbourne, is already bracing for the loss of the Ford manufacturing plant, which closes in October.

The legislation to dismiss the council also includes amendments for a directly elected deputy mayor, and a review to remove single councillor wards, one of the inquiry’s recommendations.