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Australia: Upper Hunter Shire councillor quits after being reported for incomplete form while on compassionate leave

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Sue Abbott quit after six years on the Upper Hunter Shire Council. (ABC Upper Hunter: Amelia Bernasconi) © Provided by ABC News (AU) Sue Abbott quit after six years on the Upper Hunter Shire Council. (ABC Upper Hunter: Amelia Bernasconi)

Former Upper Hunter Shire councillor Sue Abbott has demanded an apology after being reported to the New South Wales Office of Local Government while on compassionate leave grieving the death of her son.

During that time period all councillors were asked to declare their pecuniary interests, as they are required to do every year.

Ms Abbott said the declaration form was sent to her council email address, which was not being monitored, and she was not alerted by other means that the paperwork was due.

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She said that was despite the general manager sending her a text message in August to enquire when she intended to return from leave.

"This has been the worst year in my life and this council couldn't just text me and say, 'This is coming up, how would you like to approach it?'" she said.

"We had that channel open already and council has my personal email.

"If they wanted to they could've flagged it."

Ms Abbott heard she was to be reported to the Office of Local Government when she retrospectively viewed the public section of council's October meeting and found her name listed in the published minutes.

She tendered her resignation the same day.

"It felt humiliating," she said.

"I was very sorry that I'd been named publicly and I really, really felt sad about the lack of compassion [showed by] council.

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"Yes, I'm at my lowest ebb ever but I'm a fighter and I will never give up.

"I really do want an apology — I think it's important.

"I'm not going to go quietly."

'We simply have a duty'

Upper Hunter Shire Council general manager Greg McDonald said it was his duty under the code to inform the Office of Local Government when councillors had not submitted the form by the deadline.

He said he advised the office of the reason the form had not been received, but that it was ultimately up to the state government department to investigate and determine a resolution.

"The process doesn't give extenuating circumstances or out-clauses to say a councillor doesn't need to do it," Mr McDonald said.

"We simply have a duty to report back to the Office of Local Government which ones have been lodged, which ones haven't."

When asked whether councillors were expected to monitor work-related emails while on leave, Mr McDonald said most councillors "would still keep an eye on their emails".

"Possibly we could've looked at alternative means of contacting her," he said.

"We were very conscious, too, of the circumstances which led to her leave — we were trying to respect her privacy."

The Office of Local Government acknowledged "the tragic circumstances involved in this case".

It said it would "not be pursuing any action in relation to Ms Abbott and the matter is now closed".

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