Wangaratta farmer and general practitioner, Julian Fidge, is the controversial candidate for the Australian Country Party.
Dr Fidge is a former Royal Australian Army Medical Corps officer. “I was a captain for six years as a medical officer and served in East Timor with the ANZAC Battle Group based on 6RAR in 2006/07,” he said.
But he was too outspoken for the army. He often expressed his opinions about the treatment of medical personnel. By 2011 he claimed he received 12 insubordinations.
“It became apparent that we weren’t valued by defence … There’s this low level of denigration, discrimination and harassment,” he told the medical newsletter 6minutes.
Dr Fidge then became a Wangaratta councillor. He was elected in 2012 with an agenda to reform the council. But he quickly found himself the subject of bullying allegations from fellow members.
“Fidge is routinely hostile … at councillor meetings and I am not comfortable conversing with him without a mediator,” councillor Tammy Atkins stated in a January 2013 letter to the Municipal Association of Victoria (MAV).
Several months later the MAV’s Councillor Conduct Panel commenced its hearings. It investigated complaints made by then Mayor Rozi Parisotto and three other councillors about Dr Fidge.
The panel found him guilty of misconduct in August, 2013. He was suspended for two months and ordered to attend five therapy sessions.
The council was sacked by the Napthine government soon afterwards. Then Local Government Minister Jeanette Powell said it had “failed to meet its legal obligations to provide a safe workplace by allowing a culture of bullying and intimidating behaviour among some councillors towards staff to grow, impacting on staff wellbeing and leading to a large number of staff resignations”.
Dr Fidge reportedly later took legal action alleging Ms Atkins defamed him with comments in a local newspaper before the council’s sacking in September 2013. He reportedly said in a statement last August that he was “very happy” with a settlement reached with Ms Atkins, the terms of which were confidential.
Dr Fidge, who insisted he was the victim, not perpetrator, at Wangaratta Council, also had his differences with an Australian Services Union organiser Ty Lockwood.
“Workcover claims skyrocketed through that six-month period from November 2012 through to May 2013 … That’s how we became involved, his behaviour was really impacting people’s health,” Mr Lockwood told UniPollWatch.
He said he received a “childish” email from Dr Fidge calling him a “stupid union thug”.
“He’s the kind of person who always says he is out to uncover all these conspiracies and what not, but … the problem is him,” Mr Lockwood said.
However, according to his friend, Jim Franghis, Dr Fidge’s outspoken ways could be interpreted as patriotic.
Dr Fidge’s Facebook profile says he has been honoured with the Humanitarian Overseas Service medal, as well as the Australian Defence medal, the Australian Service medal, and Timor Leste Solidarity medal.
“If he isn’t the ultimate politician he certainly is going to become one … he is almost brutally honest about the issues that he tackles,” Mr Franghis said.
Dr Fidge spoke to UniPollWatch by email but the Australian Country Party did not respond to a request for an interview.
Its website informs voters that “as a local farmer, businessman and father, Julian shares the same concerns as his electorate about the future of farming, healthcare and small business.”
In his email Dr Fidge said: “I chose the ACP (because) I am very unhappy with the poor representation rural people get at all levels of government. We deserve better.”
The Australian Country Party’s website says he has many goals, including building the Buffalo Dam, improving the rail system and moving defence manufacturing to the country.
“All defence manufacturing should be done in Australia … This would bring costs down, as well as providing more work for Australians [instead of] 4,000 jobs for the French,” he said.
Dr Fidge is understood to be close to the Liberal’s Sophie Mirabella but he says he won’t be directing preferences and will have an “open ticket at this stage”.