December 5, 2014
by Anne Miller
It can be a tough job being a councillor …
The Murgon community recently applauded the return of an artillery gun to the front of the Murgon RSL Club.
Cr Kathy Duff – the Divisional representative for Murgon – was presented with a bunch of flowers at a Murgon RSL Sub-Branch dinner in thanks, in front of both Deputy PM Warren Truss and Deputy Mayor Keith Campbell.
But now she’s a received an official reprimand from the South Burnett Regional Council for her role in getting the gun back to Murgon.
The problems began soon after the World War II-era 25 pounder field gun was relocated from Kingaroy Airport to outside the Murgon RSL.
The gun has been the centre of controversy for years, with many people claiming it should never have been shifted from Murgon to Kingaroy in the first place.
Murgon RSL Sub-Branch president Jim Kingston has claimed publicly the Sub-Branch never relinquished ownership of the gun.
However, what isn’t in dispute is that the field gun was licensed by then-president of the Burnett War Museum, Russell Cook, in his name after it was moved to the war museum site at Kingaroy Airport almost five years ago.
In August this year, Mr Cook announced he was retiring, the war museum would no longer be open to the public, and that the displays would be transferred to Heritage House in Yarraman.
At the time, Mr Cook said he had health problems but also told southburnett.com.au he blamed the South Burnett Regional Council for the decision to find a new home for the collection as Council had refused to do repairs to the museum buildings.
He also said he had selected Yarraman as the new home because it was not in the South Burnett Regional Council area.
When Cr Duff heard the displays were in the process of being relocated to Heritage House she decided to act. She immediately contacted the Yarraman Historical Society.
They confirmed they had received copies of minutes from the Burnett War Museum transferring ownership of the displays to Heritage House. They also confirmed they were not interested in keeping the field gun, and were quite happy for it to be returned to Murgon.
So Cr Duff started making arrangements.
The Murgon business community was eager to help, providing the transport and expertise to move the gun, and offering to restore it back to display standard.
Cr Duff also consulted police in Murgon about the legalities of the gun licence.
Before the shift occurred, a spokesperson from Heritage House contacted Mr Cook to inform him the gun was going to be shifted.
The shift went ahead as planned on September 26. Ironically, Cr Duff wasn’t even present at the Airport when the gun was moved.
The restoration took place, and then on October 30 the artillery piece was escorted by a parade down Lamb Street back to the Murgon RSL Club.
The real headaches for Cr Duff began soon afterwards.
At some stage Mr Cook is believed to have contacted Kingaroy Police, reporting the gun had been stolen.
Then a Freedom Of Information request about the gun transfer was submitted to Council by a Kingaroy resident.
southburnett.com.au understands that then-Council CEO Ken McLoughlin spoke to both the person who submitted the FOI and Mr Cook.
Mr Cook pressed ahead with an official complaint against Cr Duff which he lodged directly with the Department of Local Government.
Following procedure, the Department referred the complaint back to the SBRC for its initial assessment.
Acting CEO Gary Wall received the complaint, which alleged misconduct because Cr Duff had acted to shift the gun without communicating with the registered licence holder.
Cr Duff admits she did not speak to Mr Cook directly, but also maintains there was no need to as the gun was no longer his property.
However, Mr Wall told southburnett.com.au that as the gun was still located on land leased by the Burnett War Museum, he believed there should have been communication with the Museum.
For this reason, he found that Cr Duff had engaged in “inappropriate behaviour” and passed it over to Mayor Wayne Kratzmann to act.
Mayor Kratzmann wrote a letter of reprimand. By law, this action was also published on the Council Complaints register.
Mayor Kratzmann said he had no choice but to take action. He said councillors had a higher standard set for them than other members of the community, and the Local Government Act basically controlled their activities even when they were not working on official council business.
“It can be tough to be a councillor,” he said.
Cr Duff would agree.
“I got accolades from the community and a reprimand from Council,” she said.
“Everyone was excited in Murgon that the gun was returning. It was a good news story, but I was rapped over the knuckles.
“I’ve taken a bullet for Murgon.”
Footnote: Officer-in-charge of Kingaroy Police, Snr Sgt Duane Frank, confirmed police had conducted inquiries, investigating the issues of ownership, control and registration of the gun. He said there were due processes that had to be followed in regard to gun licences. These had been resolved and police would not be taking any action.