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“Torture and hell”: former councillor speaks out after being discharged

Trevina Schwarz is one of eight former Logan City Councillors to have her name cleared of fraud charges in court today.

She says she was dragged through “torture and hell” over an issue that she and the state’s peak council body believe should never have been considered as a criminal prosecution.

Speaking publicly for the first time since being arrested in 2019, Schwarz said the reasons for being sacked and charged were unjust.

“Almost two years ago today, I was arrested by the CCC,” Schwarz said. “I was fingerprinted, had my photograph taken, and was charged with fraud because I voted not to extend the probation of then Logan CEO, Sharon Kelsey, because I believed she was not up to her position.”

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Trevina Schwarz (right) embraces former councillor Jennie Breene, who was also exonerated.

Schwarz said the case was wrongly handled as a criminal matter, rather than as an “employment or industrial relations case” – echoing the stance of the state’s peak council body, LGAQ. 

LGAQ CEO Greg Hallam said the CCC’s actions were an overreach of power.

“The LGAQ has always maintained the CCC overstepped the mark by wading into an industrial relations dispute – an area over which it does not have jurisdiction – and charging each of these councillors with a serious criminal offence,” said Hallam. 

LGAQ also called for an independent review into the CCC’s handling of the issue.

“Further, the LGAQ has written to Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk, Deputy Premier Steven Miles and Attorney-General Shannon Fentiman requesting an independent review of the actions of the CCC in this case,” Hallam said.

At the time of the alleged offence, new state government legislation meant that no councillor charged with a criminal offence could hold a council position. 

That meant the councillors would be sacked even though they were not convicted.

“The death of presumption of innocence, which has occurred to me and my fellow accused, and now acquitted fellow councillors is appalling,” said Schwarz.

Magistrate Steve Courtney discharged former councillors Russell Lutton, Cherie Dalley, Phil Pidgeon, Steve Swenson, Laurie Smith, Trevina Schwarz, Jennie Breene, and former Mayor Luke Smith, on the grounds of insufficient evidence.

He told the court it was “the proper decision” after seeing the committal trial play out.

All along, the councillors have argued their votes to end Kelsey’s contract were performance-based and not fraudulent, as the CCC alleged.

In 2019, the CCC claimed the councillors’ votes were informed by a public interest disclosure that the CEO made to the QIRC on alleged misconduct of the former mayor.

“How possibly could an allegation of fraud be levelled against me when I voted not to extend the probationary period of the former Logan CEO Sharon Kesley, where public records showed I did not want to appoint her as the CEO when she first applied for the job,” Schwarz said.

Smith still faces two charges of misconduct relating to his time in public office, which are going to trial.

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