Premier Napthine accused of choosing Ballarat's mayor

Premier Denis Napthine and Ballarat mayor Joshua Morris in Ballarat on March 30, 2014. PICTURE: KATE HEALY

Premier Denis Napthine and Ballarat mayor Joshua Morris in Ballarat on March 30, 2014. PICTURE: KATE HEALY

TWO Ballarat councillors say they were told during a briefing in November that Premier Denis Napthine wanted a Liberal-aligned mayor to lead the council.

On Tuesday, the same day the state government released its budget, Ballarat West MP Sharon Knight asked Dr Napthine in Parliament if he had sought to directly influence the ballot to ensure a Liberal Party member was elected as mayor of Ballarat.

Ms Knight said City of Ballarat records showed the premier met with outgoing mayor John Burt in Ballarat on November 7, less than a fortnight before the November 19 mayoral poll.

Dr Napthine denied that he had interfered in the vote.

"There certainly has been no involvement," he said.

"I do not ever involve myself in influencing councils as they conduct their elections in terms of mayoral elections."

However two Ballarat councillors have backed claims the vote was interfered with.

Councillor John Philips said he was one of four councillors invited to a briefing by the then mayor Cr Burt on November 13.

"I was invited to be briefed by the mayor ... to say the premier had asked for a Liberal mayor to be put in and to ensure council would continue to get funding from government," he said.

"That surprised me greatly."

"I was invited to be briefed by the mayor ... to say the premier had asked for a Liberal mayor to be put in" - Councillor John Philips

Cr Philips said he had attended a function with the premier on November 7 and Dr Napthine had made no comment to him on the topic.

Cr Burt denied the allegations.

"There is no truth in the matter at all," he said.

But Cr Hudson said he also attended a briefing by Cr Burt on November 13.

"As it was put, the premier had requested a Liberal-aligned mayor which would be advantageous to council in terms of funding and the government would be happy with a Labor mayor the following year," Cr Hudson said.

Cr Hudson said he was "disappointed" that local government was not able to be run by local government.

"I would think people who are conducting themselves in higher office are able to do that regardless of their political affiliations," he said.

"This should have been a decision of nine councillors representing the city."

Cr Morris said he was not aware of any pressure on him to be mayor from the state government.

"My perspective is that I become to be mayor with four other councillors showing support for me," he said.

"There were no discussions surrounding it. Even with what's been said today, there's nothing in it." 

rachel.afflick@fairfaxmedia.com.au

Question time transcript

Sharon Knight

Thank you Speaker, my question is to the premier. 

I refer to official City of Ballarat documents that record a meeting between the premier and the mayor, Cr John Burt, on the 7th November 2013 and I ask:

Can the premier confirm that at this meeting he sought to directly influence the outcome of a council ballot to ensure that a Liberal Party member would be elected as the next mayor of the City of Ballarat?

Denis Napthine

Thank you Speaker. I thank the honorable member for her question. 

Can I say that I do not ever involve myself in influencing councils as they conduct their elections.

This may be standard practice for the Labor Party, but it is not standard practice for me or my Liberal and National Party colleagues.

I respect the work of individual councillors right across the state.

With respect to the Ballarat City Council, I respect the work of a number of those councillors.

Cr John Burt has been a very good councillor and a good mayor - currently mayor Cr Joshua Morris is doing a good job.

In terms of me being involved in the decision making of the council in election of the mayor - there certainly has been no such involvement.

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