Councillor disputes reason for being booted out of council meeting

Councillor Henry Davis was suspended from last night’s Adelaide City Council meeting for disorderly behaviour amid a flag policy debate. He believes it’s a smokescreen.

Feb 28, 2024, updated Feb 28, 2024
Councillor Henry Davis. Photo: Tony Lewis/InDaily

Councillor Henry Davis. Photo: Tony Lewis/InDaily

Last night, Davis was called out for disorderly behaviour and suspended from the chamber for 15 minutes as a penalty for his behaviour. 

The incident occurred during a debate around the council’s flag policy, which Councillor Mary Couros was moving to amend. 

Amid Couros’ questioning of the Acting CEO Michael Sedgman and council administration, Davis was seen waving his finger at Lord Mayor Jane Lomax-Smith, pointing and making facial expressions. 

Davis said the reason for his “gotcha” expression in these moments is that in answering Couros’ question about the flag policy that was previously in place, Sedgman had contradicted the Lord Mayor’s position.

In complex answers to questions, Sedgman discussed the policy in place – dating back many years – when Lomax-Smith decided to lower the Aboriginal flag to half-mast following the voice referendum.

Sedgeman began to explain “the wording of the resolution before the chamber  limits it to  a direction from the state or Australian government and provides no discretion to the council…”

You can listen to the exchange below, from 2:00:55.

Davis told InDaily that the wording of this policy “gives no discretion whatsoever to the administration to lower the flag unless at the direction of the state and federal government”. 

Davis said the Acting CEO’s comments last night “basically undermined” what the Lord Mayor had previously told media outlets about being able to lower the flag after consulting with members of the council’s reconciliation committee.

“That’s why they kicked me out immediately because they knew I was going to make that point,” Davis said. 

While Davis made his point to InDaily after the meeting and to his Instagram followers in a social media video filmed during his suspension, he did not raise the request for legal advice to be disclosed in his explanation for his behaviour in the council meeting. 

In the meeting, he explained his behaviour as calling for a point of order in defence of Councillor Couros to be able to speak to her proposed flag policy amendments. 

A City of Adelaide spokesperson told InDaily today that “the confidential legal advice received by Council and provided to all elected members, including Councillor Davis, states that the Lord Mayor acted within her powers under the City of Adelaide Act 1998”.

“The advice found Council could lawfully lower the Australian Aboriginal Flag to half-mast following the result of The Voice Referendum,” they said. 

The City of Adelaide Flags and Banner Policy was first adopted in 2014. Since then, it has been reviewed as part of an overhaul of standing orders undertaken by Council over the past 18 months which have resulted in the introduction of a range of new policies governing meetings, the spokesperson said. 

Before his 15-minute suspension, the tensions in the chamber rose, with Davis, Couros and Councillor Philip Martin all wishing to speak at the same time, with interruptions causing quite the scene.

Before leaving the room, Davis called Martin “a coward”, which Martin shared with the room after Davis’ exit. 

Councillor Martin told InDaily that he wished Davis would refrain from insults. 

When asked by InDaily the reasoning behind the comment, Davis stood by it. 

“To shut everything down, in my view, not even hear what your opposition has to say, I think that that’s cowardly and that’s what he did,” Davis said. 

Many councillors say they first heard Davis’ reasoning regarding his suspension being a preventative measure to stop his revealing the legal advice when he posted about it on his Instagram page. 

“I am surprised and, frankly, disappointed that that excuse was offered for what was disorderly behaviour,” Martin told InDaily. 

“The state government has recognised that the normal functions of counsel can be disrupted by disorderly conduct and they’ve given us a mechanism to deal with people who constantly interrupt meetings and otherwise frustrate the functioning of council.”

Within the council meeting, when Davis had the opportunity to speak to his behaviour, he did not mention the flag-lowering issue or the legal advice he sought. Davis said he had called for a point of order in defence of Councillor Couros’ ability to speak to the flag protocol motion. 

Couros was questioning the administration to better understand the nature of the flag policies and protocols.

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