Former Bendigo councillor's behaviour unacceptable

"I can think of no more gross example of violation of these principles than to suggest that those who would frequent a place of worship in Bendigo, or Bendigo residents who hold a particularly religious belief, would mutilate young babies in the way she has represented in her tweet. In doing so she has, whether wittingly or unwittingly, given voice to ugly and unjustified stereotyping of Muslims in the Bendigo community. This is the very opposite of what the Bendigo Code demands of a councillor. 

There is even more force to this characterisation when the tweet is seen in its context. It was not produced as part of a rational discussion of the evils of child circumcision. It was sent without warning, to a person Chapman did not know, and whose reaction she could not have foreseen. 

Indeed, these are powerful words by Judge Marilyn Harbison. Words many in our community have been waiting to hear. Words many have always believed to be true.

What was drawn out for far too long and cost the city far too much in financial and other pressure, has now reached a conclusion. Former councillor Elise Chapman has been found guilty by the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal of misconduct. She has also been reprimanded – a finding classed by VCAT as “a very serious form of censure for any professional”.

This newspaper took a stand from the outset. It was about the behaviour of a local councillor. Behaviour which failed to meet the code of conduct, in particular: ‘councillors will treat all people with courtesy and respect; recognising that there are legitimate opinions, race, culture, language, gender and abilities within the community of Bendigo’. We called for the matter to be referred to a code of conduct panel and for the state government to review the Local Government Act that did not allow for individual councillors to face consequences for such actions. We have seen changes to the Act.  But we have not seen an apology from Ms Chapman. At one stage, we saw parts of a drafted apology, deflecting blame. But to this day, she stands by her actions.

Nor have we seen any acknowledgement of the young woman, to whom the graphic tweet was directed. That young woman was defending the rights of those wanting to build a mosque in our community, and the response she received from an elected representative was incomprehensible.

E, may this finding give you the strength to keep standing up for what you believe in.

Nicole Ferrie, editor