Council explains decision behind Kolan Street legal battle
A PLANNING and Environment Court Judge criticised the Bundaberg Regional Council of “taking more than is necessary” and has dismissed a charge of contempt against a North Bundaberg woman.
For almost five years the council has urged Debbie Muller to complete works on a relocated house placed on a vacant Kolan St lot, which she gave to the council late last year to settle their dispute.
The council’s chief executive Stephen Johnston said it had taken legal action to make sure the house was removed for the sake of nearby residents.
Ms Muller ignored court orders to complete works to secure or remove the house, and last June the court ruled her guilty of contempt, and ordered to remove it, and to pay $25,000 in fines and legal fees within two months.
The court heard she failed the deadline but that last November she apologised to the court, gave evidence of her difficult financial situation, and borrowed $25,000 from her mother to pay the costs.
She accepted a council offer to transfer the land rights of her Kolan St property to the council last year, which was valued at $45,000. It would be responsible for the removal of the building which was quoted at a cost of $15,000.
Judge William Everson was critical of the council for continuing legal action against Ms Muller, who he observed is the carer to her adult son with intellectual difficulties.
“The conduct of the council in potentially taking more than is necessary to secure compliance with the order of the court concerning removal of the house, but not attending to its compliance, is tantamount to an abuse of process when conducting a proceeding for contempt of court,” Judge Everson said.
“This is not appropriate conduct by a publicly elected body and falls well short of conducting itself as a model litigant.
“I am most unimpressed with the attitude of the council in continuing to pursue Ms Muller in circumstances where it appears to have potentially gained a financial advantage at her expense as a consequence of the transfer of the land to it for no consideration.”
The house has since been removed from the property.
Mr Johnston said, “we’re surprised by the Judge’s comments in this latest decision.
“The two judges who dealt with this matter previously in 2018 and 2019 did not express similar views about council’s conduct.
“Council only took legal action to try to secure the removal of the house and provide relief to nearby residents, not as a punitive measure.
“The suggestion that land be transferred to council was made by Mrs Muller and council accepted the offer as it appeared to be the only feasible decision.”