Australian politician ordered to undergo 'training' after protesting Pride flag, banned from speaking with staff

An Australian Aboriginal flag, a Pride flag and an Australian flag fly from a flag posts in Redfern on October 13, 2023, in Sydney, Australia.
An Australian Aboriginal flag, a Pride flag and an Australian flag fly from a flag posts in Redfern on October 13, 2023, in Sydney, Australia. | Jenny Evans/Getty Images

A politician in Australia has been forbidden from speaking with government staff and was ordered to undergo "training" after raising concerns about the potentially divisive nature of permanently flying a Pride flag at government offices.

Susan Bissinger, who has served as a councillor on the Mornington Peninsula Shire Council in metropolitan Melbourne since 2021, objected to the permanent display of an Intersex Progress Pride flag at the council office, according to an email exchange with fellow councillors and council staff reported by the Herald Sun.

After expressing her concerns, Bissinger was reportedly called into an external mediation on Sept. 22 at the request of Mornington Peninsula Mayor Steve Holland, during which she was told her emails exhibited "poor behavior."

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The councillor was also told to undergo personal development training, according to the local outlet.

She was further reprimanded by council chief executive John Baker, who cited the Local Government Act to prohibit her from communicating with council staff except for Baker, the council’s chief financial officer, and three other department heads.

Bissinger has claimed that the restrictive measures have caused her to feel "under siege," and she worries they will impinge on her ability to adequately represent her constituents.

“I’m pretty tough, but this is overwhelming,” she said.

Speaking Friday to local radio host Tom Elliot, Bissinger said that when she learned of the plan to permanently fly Pride flags at all council offices, she questioned if it was "the right thing to do at this time."

"Our people are very inclusive of diversity and the LGBTQIA+ community," she said. "Do we need to whack a flag in their face? That was my sort of question, and it's just sort of gone crazy."

Explaining that she questioned the propriety of flying any flag on government property that would "elicit an opinion," Bissinger said she heard there had been complaints lodged against her, though she had not been told of their specifics. She also noted how she had agreed to subject herself to "evaluation and training." 

"I'm copping it on the chin and doing it," she said of the training, the details of which she did not provide.

Dean Hurlston, who serves as president of the lobby group Council Watch, told the Herald Sun that Bissinger's treatment evinced a "cultural crisis" in the local government and shows its leaders have "too much power."

"There is no other role where you can be elected by your community to represent them, only to be shut down and humiliated by council executives because they don't like what you say or the questions you are asking," Hurlston said.

Mornington Peninsula, whose council was recently rated the worst in Melbourne by a local community survey, also made headlines in May when residents complained about a Pride Formal for children as young as 10, according to the Herald Sun.

The event was funded by the shire and Victoria state government via the local organization Impakt FReeZA.

A petition against the event garnered 52 signatures before it was pulled from the internet, prompting the petition organizer to claim she felt "censored or gagged" by the shire council, the local outlet reported.

The Christian Post has reached out to Mornington Peninsula Mayor Steve Holland for comment.

“In matters such as this we are bound by strict confidentiality requirements,” a council spokesperson told the Herald Sun regarding Bissinger.

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