Editorial: Last straw for Cr Abbott

Filed in Recent News by November 2, 2022

YESTERDAY evening Cr Sue Abbott emailed her resignation to Council, and I am glad my friend will no longer be subjected to the behaviours I have witnessed from some within the Upper Hunter Shire Council.

In her email, Cr Abbott described the events of the night before her return to Council as “the last straw”. It was extremely minor compared to what I have witnessed Sue endure, but under a constant barrage of behaviours I completely understand her position.

The last meeting Cr Abbott attended in April, before her son David’s death, she had applied to attend via Zoom. It was another small thing, that has become a battleground. In this day and age Councillors across the country regularly attend meetings by Zoom, but at Upper Hunter Shire Council, they have added a range of different stipulations to prevent it. At the time I argued we should be flexible and I didn’t mind who wanted to attend in person or on Zoom, as long as they attended. I gave the example of if a Councillor was driving across the Shire and their car broke down before a meeting that they should be able to attend by Zoom, but instead a 24 hour notice period was implemented which would preclude them. It’s nonsensical to me, but the majority of Councillors voted for Zoom attendance to be restricted. 

Predictably that evening three Councillors voted against Cr Abbott attending the meeting via Zoom: Cr McPhee, Cr Campbell and Cr Collison. 

Mayor Collison vented his annoyance at Cr Abbott saying, “I’m just making it clear our ruling is you must have a reasonable excuse I don’t believe just family is; but that’s only my decision, Mr Acting GM, so are we going to let Councillor Abbott in?” Thankfully enough Councillors voted to allow her to attend the meeting and fulfill her elected duties. 

But the demeaning words of Mayor Collison, “just family”, rang in my ears after Cr Abbott’s tragic news and of course then many extolled “family” was everything.

During the months Cr Abbott was on leave, I spoke with her about returning to Council. As her friend I didn’t want to see her return to what we both experience as an extremely toxic environment, after such a significant personal trauma. However, I respected and supported her decision to return.

Cr Abbott was due to return this month, but at Monday’s Council meeting one small straw was the last. I had returned from my own period of leave for the meeting and on the agenda was an item relating to declaration of interests for Councillors. Cr Abbott and I were listed as not having lodged the latest round of forms. Forms which were only sent to our Council email after we had both commenced leave and were due before we returned from leave. Of course, we had both left instructions that we would not be checking our Council emails during leave, but if there was anything urgent we could be called, texted or used our private email. But the General Manager advised of a new rule while we were away, that Council will not make contact on private email. There was still the phone or text option available, but who knows what “new” rule I may have missed there.

Of course much was made about the item in the public meeting, with Cr Campbell taking to his feet to ask, “…what is the legal requirement for anyone who does not disclose a pecuniary interest?” To which the general manager replied, “I’m obliged to report it to the Office of Local Government, and it’s up to them what action they take.”

To be clear Cr Abbott and I have NEVER not disclosed a pecuniary interest, we had simply not been sent the form. The next day on November 1, I opened my Council emails, completed the form and lodged it. The ONLY pecuniary interest I had to note was the home I own in Scone and my business. I rang to inform Cr Abbott of the latest machinations and sent her a copy of the form to her private email. We discussed the culture of the Council and I encouraged Cr Abbott to simply fill out the form and ignore the unnecessary drama surrounding it. However, later that evening Cr Abbott sent the following email and received a predictably toned email response from the GM.

Dear Greg,

I am submitting my resignation from the Upper Hunter Shire Council effectively immediately.

Being publicly detailed in agenda item “G.10.2 Disclosures of pecuniary interest and other matters” in the papers for Monday night’s ordinary council meeting (31/10/2022), culminating in open discussion, was the final straw.

As you are well aware, I was on compassionate leave for six months due to my son’s death by suicide in May 2022. As I am on leave, I am not monitoring or accessing my council email. I have not received any correspondence from you, or anyone else, to my personal email address (which you and others have on file). Assuming this matter was sent only to my council email address, until publicly being called out, I was not made aware of the dates for the form’s completion.

I can see no role for me at this council any longer.

It has broken my heart to see public services which Upper Hunter Shire Council had previously offered now privatised or about to be, to see misogyny and bullying continuing unchecked, and to finally recognise that this council is never going to take global warming and the decimation of the biosphere seriously or do anything meaningful about addressing these issues (the greenwashing action plan does not count).

To work with people who think that it is appropriate and necessary to publicly call out someone when that person is on a leave of absence following the death of their son (less than six months ago) shows the complete lack of compassion inherent amongst many at the Upper Hunter Shire Council and which I am sad to say I have witnessed repeatedly over my six years as a councillor but never to the depths of this final straw.

I am sad to resign for the people who have supported me and for whom I have fought so hard. But I cannot continue to be involved with this council. Life is too short.

Kind regards,


Greg McDonald’s response:

Hi Sue,

Sorry to hear that you feel this way. There is a requirement under the code of conduct to complete the disclosure of interest forms and I have a responsibility to table those received. As you know we only communicate to Councillors through their Councillor email for Council related matters. There is no discretion in the code for me to consider extenuating circumstances although when I forwarded the advice to the Office of Local Government I made it clear that the two disclosures that hadn’t been received were from Councillors who were on varying periods of leave.

It is disappointing that you are leaving under these circumstances and I thank you for you many years of service as a Councillor.

I will inform the Electoral Commission and the Office of Local Government of your resignation.

Sue has contributed a huge amount to local Council and fought the good fight on a range of community issues. The reasons for her resignation are never acceptable in any workplace and the fact that she felt she couldn’t step into a safe work environment following the death of her son says everything about the culture in Council. I am personally glad she will now be free of the behaviours she has been subjected to, and wish her only the best. 


Elizabeth Flaherty

I am a Councillor on the Upper Hunter Shire Council. The views and beliefs expressed are my own and not necessarily that of Council.

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