NSW Local Government Minister Gabrielle Upton has demanded Lake Macquarie Council remove the portraits of convicted sex offenders from its chambers, urging the council to “just get on with it”.
Ms Upton called on Thursday for the council to remove the images of Milton Orkopoulos and Douglas Carley.
“They just need to get on to the job of taking those portraits down,” Ms Upton said in a statement to the Herald.
“No one stands in the way, I don’t stand in the way.
“They’re just completely out of touch.
“It doesn’t make any sense and it’s entirely in the council’s hands to do the right thing.
“Those portraits should be removed today.
“They should just get on with it and that is my request to them.”
PORTRAITS of two senior public officials who are convicted sex offenders remain hanging in the Lake Macquarie City Council chambers, to the outrage of advocates for survivors of abuse.
The photographs of disgraced mayor Douglas Carley and councillor-turned-state Labor minister Milton Orkopoulos are displayed prominently in a room used for committee meetings – often attended by members of the public – and at the chambers’ main entrance.
The Newcastle Herald understands a majority of councillors voted down a motion to remove all photographs and plaques on council assets of former council representatives “convicted of a serious or strictly indictable offence”, in a confidential session last November.
Both Carley and Orkopoulos were jailed for a range of sexual offences involving young boys.
Asked why the images of the convicted sex offenders hadn’t been removed from the chambers, a council spokeswoman said “the confidential notice of motion was lost and the matter remains confidential”.
The council wouldn’t comment further.
Lake Macquarie mayor Kay Fraser said discussion of the matter “should be done with proper consideration of the legal and social implications, and in a manner that is sensitive to victims of crime”.
Tony Phiskie, a social worker from the Survivors & Mates Support Network, said the presence of the portraits was a “slap in the face” for all victims of abuse.
“It’s disrespectful and almost as if what happened to them has not been heard,” Mr Phiskie said.
“It certainly undermines their belief that the larger community is taking on board what they’re saying.”
Outraged Eleebana resident Michelle Shetab has circulated a petition demanding the council remove the photos and has collected about 1000 signatures.
Ms Shetab wears her cause – justice for victims of sexual abuse – in the rear window of her car.
The poster she displays demands the removal of photos of criminal former officials from the council chambers.
“We can’t turn a blind eye to abusers,” Ms Shetab said.
“If the Queen can strip Rolf Harris of his knighthood then surely the council can take these pictures down.”
Liberal councillor Kevin Baker agreed.
“I think it’s abhorrent that these photos remain in positions of honour,” Cr Baker said.
“It sends an extremely bad message to victims of abuse that we would continue to display images of people who’ve committed these crimes.”
The closed vote on the controversial photos means it is unclear which councillors supported keeping them.
Ms Shetab wrote to all councillors last year and only received a full response from Cr Christine Buckley.
In an email seen by the Herald, Cr Buckley said she shared “revulsion of the behaviours involved, but they have nothing to do with the fact that these people were elected by, and served the interests of” the Lake Macquarie community.
“I believe the decision to hang portraits was an appropriate decision made by a previous council and it remains appropriate today,” Cr Buckley wrote.
“In my view council is simply providing a visual historical record of those who have been elected to represent their community.”
But Ms Shetab refused to accept this.
“If it’s up there for historic reasons let’s put their whole history up there,” she said. “This [removal] is going to happen whether they like it or not,” she said.
“Even if it means I remove them and get arrested in the process. We cannot have paedophiles on our wall.”
President of survivors’ group Blue Knot Foundation, Dr Cathy Kezelman, said victims could be “retraumatised” by the photos.
“It can trigger reactions of distress, anger and creates situations where people need support,” she said.
“It is contingent on [the community] to ensure we’re not adding to people’s trauma and retraumatising them.”
She said the photos were “inappropriate and unnecessary”.
“These crimes negate the right that someone has to hold a position that normally is one of respect and adulation.”
Douglas Carley was a councillor for 10 years and mayor from 1991 to 1993.
He was charged with the aggravated indecent assault of a 12 year-old-boy, and jailed for three years.
He was convicted in 1995 of indecently assaulting a 15-year-old boy.
Milton Orkopoulos was a councillor from 1995 until 1999, then Swansea MP.
He was convicted of 30 child sex and drug offences, and sentenced to 13 years in jail.