Diplomatic row . . . a model of the controversial sculpture marking the contested Assyrian genocide, with its artist, Lewis Batros. Photo: Dallas Kilponen
THE actions of Fairfield Council have been referred to the NSW Ombudsman after it approved a monument to the contested World War I Assyrian genocide last month,Â despite opposition from the Turkish community and the Foreign Minister, Stephen Smith.
A complaint was sent to the Ombudsman last week alleging conflicts of interest should have prevented at least two councillors from voting.
Adem Cetinay, who had organised a petition opposing the monument, has written a 14-page complaint that highlights links between Assyrian community groups and several councillors who voted for the monument.
”The conflict of interest and denial of natural justice has led to a decision that was made by council, to the exclusive benefit of some members of the Assyrian community,” Mr Cetinay, who is of Turkish background, wrote.
”The decision of the council permits the use of public land by one ethnic minority to the exclusion of all other residents. The decision was made in breach of the relevant legislation, guidelines and policies, and it is also irrational.”
The deputy mayor, Anwar Khoshaba, who moved the motion for approval, is a life member of an Assyrian community group that endorsed the monument. Andrew Rohan, who voted in favour of the monument, was president of the same body.
Both declared a ”non-significant, non-pecuniary” interest in the monument, as did three other councillors.
”You ask too many questions,” Cr Rohan said. ”There’s no need to go into this. It is a question for the Ombudsman.”
Cr Khoshaba said he had nothing to declare. ”If you’re clean, you don’t worry about any inquiry. I’m going to open my chest for anyone – Ombudsman, ICAC, whatever. I don’t care.”
The Turkish ambassador, Oguz Ozge, said he would use ”any means available” to prevent the monument being erected.
The embassy had lobbied Mr Smith, who wrote to the council urging it not to proceed with the monument. The embassy says it is considering legal options.
The artist who will sculpt the monument, Lewis Batros, said, ”We’re not insulting [the] Turkish â€¦ I have Turkish friends. They come for coffee and they’re laughing. They know it is a beautiful artwork.”