Wagga councillor and state parliament hopeful Paul Funnell is waiting to learn his fate after he unexpectedly pleaded guilty to intimidating a drover on his Collingullie property.
Mr Funnell had maintained his innocence since the October 8 incident, and was due to have his case heard on Thursday morning.
However, when he arrived at Wagga Local Court for that hearing, he entered his last-minute plea.
Mr Funnell said he came home to find the drover’s cattle trampling a valuable crop on his property.
An argument broke out, and Mr Funnell threw a shovel in the direction of the cattle.
He said a piece of the shovel broke off on impact with the ground and landed within a metre of the drover.
“I never intended to cause [the victim] to suffer fear or anxiety – I came home, found the cattle on my property during difficult agricultural times, and seeing that, yes, I blew up,” Mr Funnell said.
“I suffered approximately a $45,000 loss on the crop.”
Mr Funnell insisted he was trying to get the cattle off his crop, not hit the drover.
However, Magistrate Imad Abdul-Karim questioned if he could believe that, given what Mr Funnell said before throwing the shovel.
“Is it the case that you threw the shovel near him, you said the words ‘I’ll hit you in the head with this shovel’, you but never intended to hit him?” he asked.
“I actually refuse to accept that I said those words, your honour, I’ve said that all along," Mr Funnell replied.
Councillor Yvonne Braid was called as a reference, describing Mr Funnell as someone who is “very passionate” about his community.
“He’s very willing to help a lot of people in Wagga ... as many as he possibly can,” she said.
Francis Goodyear, a retired policeman of 31 years, said some tough conversations with Mr Funnell were a testament to his remorse.
“He rang me and said he’d really had a long, hard think about it, and he’s prepared to plea the way he has today, make an apology, and move forward,” Mr Goodyear said.
However, Mr Abdul-Karim said he was unsure if he could accept Mr Funnell’s remorse, given his late guilty plea.
“It appears to me that the defendant is remorseful for the incident occurring rather than remorseful for his actions, and I will need to reflect carefully on the matter,” he said.
Barrister Terry Thorpe asked the magistrate to consider recording no conviction against Mr Funnell so he could still run in Wagga’s upcoming byelection.
“If he is convicted of an offence for a period of five years, he would be prohibited from being nominated and standing in parliament,” Mr Thorpe said.
“The consequences of a conviction for this offence would be out of proportion.”
A conviction would mean Mr Funnell would also have to stand down from council, the Local Land Service, and the Australian Institute of Company Directors.
Mr Abdul-Karim said he wanted to reflect overnight before making his decision.
"It is an important matter, and no doubt it has important consequences for the defendant,” he said.
Mr Funnell will return to court on Friday morning to learn his fate.
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