Mayor guilty of drink-driving when council purchased alcohol

The Mayor of Redland City Council, Karen Magdalina Williams, pleaded guilty on 1 Aug. 2022 to a drink-driving incident which occurred on 23 June 2022. The drink-driver damaged a council owned vehicle, crashed it into a fence and a tree. Fortunately nobody died this time! The mayor had a blood alcohol content of 0.177 (over 3 times the 0.05 general alcohol limit currently in Queensland) following the council-approved purchase of “limited amounts” of alcohol. After pleading guilty at Cleveland Magistrates Court, Williams now returns to her job as mayor, plus 80 hours of community service, and six months without driving. But there is no imprisonment (up to 9 months in Queensland), no $4,025 fine, and not even a conviction recorded for the mayor. (Before the court date, she stood down temporarily and agreed to repay the council for the damaged vehicle if convicted.)

A petition (signed by 6,697 people) called for Queensland’s Minister for Local Government to dismiss the mayor. Another petition calling for a zero-alcohol workplace for elected representatives was referred to the Redland City Council CEO Andrew Chesterman.

Then on 28 June, the Council CEO said about the existing Entertainment and Hospitality Policy: “Limited amounts of alcohol are purchased, on rare occasions, and only to mark significant events, in accordance with the Entertainment and Hospitality Policy. On Sunday I asked for this Policy to be reviewed.”

Irony

Ironically, the Mayor’s drink-driving incident occurred on the same day as a Zoom meeting where she chatted with the families of people killed by drink-drivers.

Judy Lindsay was among the families of victims who chatted with Mayor Williams that day. Her 20-year-old daughter Hayley had been killed by another drink-driver. Senior Sergeant David Candale has said of the drink-driver that killed Hayley: “He told the group that he was right to drive. He had severely underestimated how much alcohol he had in his body.” Now Judy became the principal petitioner for the mayor’s dismissal, sponsored by Don Brown MP.

Zero-alcohol workplace for elected representatives

Williams admitted that she made “a serious error of judgement” on 23 June 2022. Correct. But without a zero-alcohol workplace for elected representatives, the errors of judgement were waiting to happen! Even low levels of alcohol affect judgement.

Remember: do not have that first drink!

Some countries have a much lower blood alcohol limit than Australia. Queensland’s current general alcohol “limit” of 0.05 increases the dangerous complacency about drink-driving.

Even below this [0.05], your judgement, reaction times and driving skill are not as good as you think they are. For example, you are twice as likely to have a crash when driving with a BAC of 0.05%, versus no alcohol. If you’re a learner driver, provisional or probationary driver (regardless of age), truck and bus driver, driving instructor or convicted of driving under the influence (DUI), you must have a 0.00% BAC in most Australian states or territories.”

(“Blood alcohol levels“, Australian Drug Foundation, 14 Feb. 2017.)

However, I am concerned when a politician referring to Mayor Williams, said “not to have that extra drink.” This part of what Peter Dutton MP said is certainly not strong enough! “My message, particularly as a former police officer, is to not have that extra drink. Don’t drink and drive. I mean, there’s no excuse for it, and the consequences can be deadly.”

(Lillian Rangiah and Julius Dennis, “Peter Dutton and Meaghan Scanlon weigh in on calls for Redlands Mayor Karen Williams to resign” 26 Jun 2022.)

But it is good that he said, “Don’t drink and drive”! Remember: do not have that first drink!

Mayor called for tougher sentencing of a young driver. But what about drink drivers of any age?

The mayor herself had petitioned called for tougher sentencing for a young drink-driver, who killed three people: Matthew Field, Kate Leadbetter, and Miles (the unborn child). (He has turned 18 since the tragedy on 26 Jan. 2021 when he was influenced by alcohol and other drugs. His sentence is for 6 years (6-10 years) imprisonment, despite “two counts of manslaughter, burglary, stealing, dangerous operation of a motor vehicle while adversely affected, unlawful use of a motor vehicle, excessive speeding, unlawful entry and wilful damage – all offences from that deadly day.”)

The Mayor commented on 16 Jun. 2022:

“As a community, we stand with the families of Matthew and Kate. Today’s announcement from the Attorney General that she will appeal this completely insufficient sentence is a good start. But it is far from the end of this fight. Today’s decision shows what can be achieved when the community stands together. And we need that to continue, to ensure the Youth Justice Act is amended. We do not want any other family to go through what Matthew and Kate’s parents have been through. They shouldn’t have to petition and lobby for justice. There needs to be legislation that guarantees justice for victims and their families. So our fight is not over. Now more than ever, we need the community to stand strong with us to change the law. And the best way to do that is to sign the petition calling for tougher youth justice laws. Let’s make sure that the deaths of Matt, Kate, and the unborn child Miles are not in vain.”

“I will now read a statement that’s been provide to me by Ann and Russell Field: ‘On behalf of Kate and Matthew’s families and friends, we welcome the Attorney General’s decision to appeal the sentence of the driver responsible for the deaths of Matthew, Kate, and Miles. We thank the Attorney General, and hope the appeal is swift, and results in a more appropriate sentence, in line with the community’s expectations for the three beautiful lives that were so tragically cut short, as well as the countless others that have been destroyed as a result. We also want to thank Mayor Karen Williams, David Crisafulli, Don Brown, and the many other community leaders for signing our petition, calling for an appeal, and for tougher youth justice laws. This is not a political issue; it is a moral issue. Every family deserves justice, and we appreciate the bi-partisan support we have received to our petition. While today’s decision is a good start, there is still a long way to go to change the laws so that other families don’t have to go through what we have been through. The deaths of Matthew, Kate, and Miles must not be in vain. This tragedy must prompt the lawmakers of Queensland to change the Youth Justice Act and persuade judges to hand down sentences that match community expectation. They don’t only owe it to Matthew, Kate, and Miles. They owe it to every family who have lost a loved one, or suffered in some way as a result of a repeat juvenile offender. We need as many people as possible to sign this petition to state parliament, calling for the Youth Justice Act to be changed. And then we need our state leaders to stand up, to be counted, by making those changes as soon as possible.'”

(Mayor Karen Williams, “Redland City Mayor Karen Williams calls for tougher youth justice laws“, Redland City Council, 16 Jun. 2022)

(Mayor Karen Williams, “Help petition for change and justice for Matthew Field, Kate Leadbetter and their unborn son Miles“, Redland City Council, 17 Jun. 2022)

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