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Elizabeth Farrelly unhappy about firing after failing to disclose candidature

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Sydney Morning Herald columnist Elizabeth Farrelly has complained about being fired after not revealing to the newspaper that she had nominated as a Labor candidate when she wrote a piece criticising non-Labor candidates in local goverment elections.

Left-wing media have jumped to Farrelly’s defence, and her assertion that the termination was a “ruthless king hit”.

“Today, after a working relationship lasting more than three decades, my time with the Sydney Morning Herald came to an abrupt end,” Elizabeth Farrelly wrote on social media channel Facebook.

“According to the five-minute out-of-the-blue phone call I received from the new editor on the other side of the world, this termination is due to an apparent lack of transparency on my part.”

In the newspaper, she said: “It is grossly disproportionate. It was a small, inadvertent misdemeanour that was met with an irreversible punishment and that is grossly unfair. I can’t think of any other workplace with this kind of treatment of long-standing honourable service and where such treatment would be acceptable.”

The newspaper released a statement pointing out that, in contravention of its standards: “Farrelly failed to disclose that she had registered as a candidate for the Labor Party in the Strathfield local government elections when she wrote a piece criticising Liberal and independent councillors in the electorate,” the Herald’s media and telecommunications reporter Zoe Samios said.

The piece was published on December 4, the day the local elections went to the polls.

Elizabeth Farrelly piece

In the piece, Farrelly wrote:

Today is election day. Together, if we wish, we can rid ourselves of the developers and real estate shonks who infest our local councils and distort our local hoods. This election, we could flush them out. But will we?

Nothing is what it seems – not motivation, machination or allegiance. In theory, political parties don’t exist at local level. Yet Strathfield Council comprises three explicit Liberals, two Labor and two soi-disant Independents. The mayor, until recently, was major Liberal Party donor Antoine Doueihi. He declared he wasn’t a property developer in material lodged to the NSW Electoral Commission but has interests in multiple property companies, in 2013 pleaded guilty in court to developing without consent and in September, after an 18-month investigation, was found by the NSW Civil and Administrative Tribunal to have breached disclosure requirements five times. No penalty has yet eventuated.

A second Liberal councillor, ex-mayor Gulian Vaccari, also denies being a developer, and falls outside the statutory definition, despite a company with which he has an association having built a block of flats in Ashfield. He threatens to sue people (I’ve seen the letter) who describe him as a developer, saying “property developer is a pejorative term”.

Meanwhile, the Doueihi-Vaccari bloc has presided over major proposals that will dramatically reshape the neighbourhood. Controversial rezoning proposals for the huge Water Street warehousing site (owned by Westport Pty, of which Crown Group’s founder, billionaire Iwan Sunito, is a director) and the streets near sweet Homebush Village will deliver massive windfalls, as will the proposal to spend tens of millions shifting a council depot 500 metres onto Crown parkland. Yet when non-Liberal councillors request information on costings or rationale, they’re stonewalled, their motions and questions summarily disallowed.

Of the two nominally independent councillors, one is a former Liberal who now works for One Nation; the other is a real estate agent and convicted fraudster, often seen hobnobbing with Doueihi.

Of course, you might argue that’s what elections are for. Take out the trash, admit the cleanskins. But things could get even worse. Ostensibly, the Libs are not fielding a team. But current candidates include three real estate agents (one of whom is the very same fraudster mentioned above, another, Benjamin Cai, is agitating to have his house removed from a conservation area) and the One Nation-ite – all of them in the new but fast-growing category known as “pretendependents”.

SMH explanation

In the article announcing the decision about Farrelly, newly appointed SMH editor Bevan Shields, thanked her for her “longstanding contribution to the Herald” and indicated that the newspaper would be looking for fresh voices for its opinion pages in the coming year.

“Elizabeth’s registration as a Labor candidate should have been disclosed to us and our readers. Her registration makes future contributions very difficult given the close connection between urban development and politics,” Shields is quoted in the article as saying.

An editor’s note declaring her registration was added to the piece last Friday, the article said.

About Hillary Cray

hillaryc@thebusinesswomanmedia.com'

Hillary Cray is a longtime commentator on women in politics.