Cr Brian Stockwell came under fire over comments made in a newsletter. Photo: Peter Gardiner
Cr Brian Stockwell came under fire over comments made in a newsletter. Photo: Peter Gardiner

’Fake news’ council election complaint dismissed

COMPLAINTS that comments made by a councillor were false and inflammatory have been dismissed after the comments were deemed "too vague" to warrant further investigation.

A newsletter authorised by Cr Brian Stockwell was flagged with the Independent Council Election Observer for review after council candidate Karen Cook-Langdon took issue with its contents.

Ms Cook-Langdon sent screenshots of the newsletter to the observer attached to a review request on February 16.

Her complaints about the newsletter focused on the following statement.

"This election there are vested interests and inexperienced candidates who want to water down our new Noosa Plan," the newsletter said.

"They want to walk away from our community's goal of carefully managed growth, which is essential to protect our environment and our lifestyle."

In her statement, Ms Cook-Langdon described the reference to "vested interests" and "inexperienced candidates" as "vague", "generalised" and "inflammatory".

She alleged the newsletter contained "fake news" and that Cr Stockwell was making false and misleading statements.

On Friday she was notified the observer did not deem the comments as false or misleading and would not take the matter further.

Cr Stockwell is chair of the Noosa Council Planning Committee.

Ms Cook-Langdon had also alleged that Cr Stockwell was misleading the public in his reference to the new Noosa Plan because he would know the plan was going through state interest checks by the relevant minister which were not finalised.

Ms Cook-Langdon's claims were reviewed and observer head John Robertson said she was correct in describing the impugned words as "vague" and "generalised".

Mr Robertson said Cr Stockwell did not identify any individual candidate as being "inexperienced", and didn't specify which "vested interests" to which he was referring.

"Whether the words he uses are 'inflammatory' is a matter of opinion," Mr Robertson said.

"In the opinion of the ICEO, the impugned statements made by Cr Stockwell, including those relating to the plan, are classically political statements that are amenable to challenge and rebuttal in the process of robust and fair debate leading up to the election."

Mr Robertson said Ms Cook-Langdon articulated arguments that could be made by opponents of Cr Stockwell in public debate during the campaign.

He said he did not want to unnecessarily interfere with "robust and fair debate" and commentary between candidates, which was a fundamental part of a fair democratic process leading up to an election.

"The statements made by Cr Stockwell are so vague, generalised and unfocused, as to be incapable of being described as false and/or misleading in terms of the ICEO Charter," Mr Robertson said.

"Whether these allegations can be made out in debate during the campaign is a matter for those who oppose the views expressed by Cr Stockwell."

The observer decided not to take the matter further nor refer it to Cr Stockwell for comment.

Ms Cook-Langdon was notified of this outcome on Friday.