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Newcastle Herald
Newcastle Herald
Sage Swinton

'Boffin': Labor MP tells council CEO to 'get back in his box'

A NSW Labor MP has described the City of Newcastle CEO as a "boffin" and suggested he "gets back in his box" after the CEO criticised Wallsend MP Sonia Hornery for lodging a petition calling for his resignation.

Auburn MP Linda Voltz was speaking in parliament on March 14 after Wallsend MP Sonia Hornery tabled a petition in parliament with 600 signatures calling for the City of Newcastle CEO Jeremy Bath's resignation.

Mr Bath hit back at Ms Hornery saying in a city of almost 200,000 residents, she "could find less than a third of one percent of our community, to sign her petition".

"In the past month alone Wallsend has lost its public aged care centre and Wallsend nurses have been told to pay for parking when they work at the John Hunter Hospital," Mr Bath said

"Last week, Wallsend firefighters walked off the job over pay conditions.

"Disgracefully not one word in parliament from Sonia Hornery about any of these state government matters impacting her electorate."

Ms Voltz addressed those comments in parliament by saying "some boffin from City of Newcastle council attacked the member for Wallsend over her support of frontline health workers".

"There is no greater supporter of frontline health workers than the member for Wallsend," Ms Voltz said.

Auburn MP Linda Voltz, City of Newcastle CEO Jeremy Bath and Wallsend MP Sonia Hornery.

"She stood shoulder to shoulder with aged-care workers in Wallsend in 2009 and made sure that facilities stayed open.

"When nurses were rallying out the front of John Hunter Hospital, who was there?

"It was not the CEO of City of Newcastle council. I am not sure what his name is. It could be Bath, it could be Neylon or it could be Neylan. He writes a lot of letters under a lot of different names.

"The member for Wallsend was there, standing shoulder to shoulder with health workers, because she understands how hard they work in regional areas like Wallsend, Broadmeadow, Maitland and Taree.

"We saw how hard it was on Taree hospital when Bulahdelah hospital was closed down.

"I suggest that this bloke gets back in his box. If he wants to help, he should get out there and support frontline health workers."

Ms Hornery addressed parliament earlier in the week after lodging the petition. The Wallsend MP spoke about Mr Bath's links to Newcastle Herald letter writer Scott Neylon, who lives in Japan, "extraordinary coincidences" in his letters that targeted critics of Mr Bath and his employer and the subsequent code of conduct investigation, which found insufficient evidence that Mr Bath contributed to Mr Neylon's letters.

"Members of our community cannot sit by and suffer the maladministration of a petty man," Ms Hornery said in parliament.

"They do not want to be victims of any more damage."

Mr Bath hit back saying less than a third of one percent of the population of Newcastle had signed the petition, and that Ms Hornery's "obsession with council issues is nothing but a ploy to distract from her inability to protect services or deliver for Wallsend".

Newcastle council boss Jeremy Bath (left), with Christine Everingham, Bob Cook, Wallsend MP Sonia Hornery and the petition.

The Herald reported in February that vocal council critics Newcastle Maritime Museum Society president Bob Cook, Newcastle East Residents Group spokeswoman Christine Everingham and former Hamilton Business Chamber president Nathan Errington, along with council's former interim chief executive Frank Cordingley had organised a petition calling for Mr Bath to resign.

Ms Hornery said that came after Newcastle Herald investigative journalist Donna Page "uncovered serious signs of malfeasance" by Mr Bath. She questioned the code of conduct investigation into Mr Bath and the fact the investigation report had not been released publicly. Mr Bath has said he supports the release of the full report.

"The non-disclosure and secrecy of the report into the Bath/Neylon/Neylan scandal has raised more questions than answers," she said.

"Why were most of the recipients of the Neylon/Neylan letters not interviewed?

"Why was the Herald investigator not interviewed?

"Why was the community being deprived of the full report?

"Why was I targeted in an astroturfing campaign aimed to undermine me and, worse, astroturf any recipient having their name and their say in the paper about CON?"

The petition said despite questions regarding Mr Bath's role in the submission of the letters to the editor, he has "remained in his $550,000 a year role" as the council CEO. Mr Bath earned $513,000 a year according to the most recent annual report, plus $50,000 a year for his role on the Newcastle Airport board.

"As residents and ratepayers to Council, we are concerned that our rates are being used to pay this individual, whose integrity and worthiness to hold an office of public trust has been questioned," the petition said.

"We have lost trust in the CEO and the ability of City of Newcastle to properly manage this matter."

Christine Everingham, Bob Cook, Wallsend MP Sonia Hornery and Frank Cordingly with the petition. Picture by Jonathan Carroll

The petition calls for the NSW Legislative Assembly to request Mr Bath's resignation and the "restoration of effective governance at the City of Newcastle".

Mr Bath said the petition was created by "failed political candidates" as well as "anti-supercars activist" Christine Everingham.

"It's increasingly obvious that Sonia's obsession with council issues is nothing but a ploy to distract from her inability to protect services or deliver for Wallsend in the NSW Parliament," he said.

However Bob Cook defended the petition organisers and their motives. He said the petition was conducted by "a small number of people" representing organisations affected by Mr Bath's management.

"The paper-only petition was conducted over only two weeks, with little publicity or promotion, but was enthusiastically welcomed by everyone who were invited to sign," Mr Cook said.

"A wider distribution and longer time frame would have resulted in extraordinary results. The acceptance level was virtually 100 per cent.

"Though he may choose to minimise the value of the petition, the promoters are even more encouraged that the intention and sentiments of the petition are the widely held views of the Newcastle community. Bath must go."

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