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Sponsorship Scandal: Is the Council Silencing Critics

Jun 20, 2024

Hawkesbury City Council (HCC) has refused to disclose whether defamation proceedings threatened by Mayor Sarah McMahon against the Hawkesbury Post (HP) are the reason behind the Council’s decision to bar the newspaper from sponsoring community events.

The controversy erupted when the Hawkesbury Post applied to sponsor the upcoming Hawkesbury Festival. On May 30, the Council rejected the proposal, citing the newspaper’s involvement in unspecified “legal matters with the Council”.  

The HP replied “to clarify that the Hawkesbury Post newspaper is not involved in any planning or legal matters with HCC. Nor do we fall under any of the categories you describe. If there is any information to the contrary, we kindly request that you provide us with the details, as we are unaware of any such matters.

“In light of this clarification, we kindly ask you to reconsider your determination regarding our sponsorship proposal. We are confident that our involvement would align with the underlying principles of the Council’s Sponsorship Policy and contribute positively to the event”, the HP wrote to Council.

Marque Lawyers, acting for the Hawkesbury Post asserted the newspaper was not involved in any legal proceedings with the Council. 

“Neither we nor our clients are aware of any current or prospective “legal matters” to which the Council and our clients are parties. There is a current legal dispute between our clients and the mayor, in her personal capacity, but surely you are not confusing the mayor’s personal affairs with those of the Council,” Michael Bradley and Ellie Nolan of Marque Lawyers wrote.

“Since the Council has chosen to deny our clients the ability to engage with the Council for a specific stated reason, you are obliged as a matter of procedural fairness to identify exactly what that reason is. Please provide us with details of the legal matter or matters that the Council says were the basis for its refusal decision,” Marque Lawyers wrote.

The Council, however, refused to provide further details. In a statement to Marque Lawyers dated June 19, it maintained its stance, emphasising its discretion in sponsorship decisions and declining to elaborate on the legal matters cited. 

The Council wrote that: “Noting Council’s ability to decline sponsorship is at Council’s absolute discretion, and for the reasons previously communicated, I again affirm Council’s earlier decision(s), rejecting or declining your client’s sponsorship proposal. You ought note that Council will not respond to any further communications concerning the subject matter.”

On April 15, lawyers acting for Mayor McMahon issued a Concerns Notice to the Hawkesbury Post, Hawkesbury Matters, and co-publisher Samantha Magnusson, alleging that each have defamed McMahon. The dispute centres on whether McMahon is associated with a property developer. The HP understands that McMahon’s legal action is personal and not funded by the council. That action is ongoing.

“We confirm that our client is undertaking this legal action in her own financial capacity and not at the expense of Hawkesbury City Council,” the Concerns Notice said.

The Council’s decision to refuse the HP access to sponsor a community event for unspecified “legal matters” involving the Council and the Post, but refusing to tell the Post what those matters are, leaves the Post in a somewhat Kafka-esque position.  

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