Anonymous donation doesn’t fix conflict of interest for council

p2558 ASTC Banks 430By KIERAN FINNANE

Last updated 8.48 pm, 28 August 2018.

 

In what looked like an extraordinary move to head off debate on the sensitive matter of the recent reception of former Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, Town Council CEO Rex Mooney, as reported last night, announced that a “concerned ratepayer” had paid in full the cost of the reception.

 

He said the ratepayer considered the visit by the (then) Prime Minister was “very significant” and “a benefit to the community, especially for the youth leaders”. On that basis the anonymous ratepayer offered to cover the $1409.91 that had been spent. The donation was “unsolicited” and Mr Mooney saw no reason to not accept it. The money had already been received by council.

 

Councillor Marli Banks (pictured above, speaking, Cr Glen Auricht in the foreground) had given notice that she would move a motion to on-charge the costs to the organisers of the event – presumably the Prime Minister, Senator Nigel Scullion and Cr Jacinta Price. Mr Mooney made his announcement of the donation as this agenda item came up.

 

In the committee meeting a fortnight ago Cr Banks had argued, backed by Cr Eli Melky, that the event was not properly a mayoral or civic reception, but rather a campaign event for Cr Price, who is the CLP’s candidate for the federal seat of Lingiari.

 

Mr Mooney confirmed that the invitation list for the reception was not in council’s control, but rather was managed by Senator Scullion and the Prime Minister’s office. At the committee meeting a fortnight ago Cr Price, before she left the chamber due to her conflict of interest, also said she had organised part of the function.

 

The more important part of Cr Banks’s motion last night addressed the significance of this, asking council to “determine that the nature of the Prime Ministerial function … does not fall under the category of a Mayoral or Civic Centre reception”.

 

Donation or no donation, that at least remained unresolved.

 

Cr Melky, no doubt seeing an attempt to scuttle the motion before it could even be debated, insisted that as a matter of procedure, the motion should be put. He suggested to the CEO that his commentary about the donation had been “mistimed”.

 

Mayor Damien Ryan said, that as the account had been paid, he didn’t see any reason to continue with the agenda item.

 

Cr Melky insisted: an attempt “to manoeuvre around” not discussing the motion would be a breach of process.

 

So Mayor Ryan asked for the motion to be moved. Cr Jamie de Brenni then excused himself as did Cr Price, who was attending the meeting by phone (he left the room, she hung up).

 

At the committee meeting, when this issue was first aired, Cr Banks had put to both that they had a conflict of interest, Cr Price as the CLP candidate who benefited from the PM’s enthusiastic endorsement, and Cr de Brenni as vice-president of the CLP.

 

Cr Banks had also argued that the Mayor had a “perceived conflict of interest” as the father-in-law of the CLP second Senate candidate Joshua Burgoyne. Mayor Ryan did not accept this but nonetheless left the room on the suggestion of the chair. Last night though he was in the chair himself and had no intention of going.

 

But clearly he still hoped to stifle debate: “Move the motion Cr Banks, seconded Cr Melky, all in favour?”

 

Not so fast: a point of order from Cr Melky: “We’ve got to allow the motion to run.” He also asked for explanation of why the Mayor was staying in the room.

 

Mayor Ryan said nothing had changed: he said then that he had no conflict of interest, that was still the case, and he was staying.

 

Cr Melky said it was good that he was staying. Cr Banks though reiterated her argument that he had a perceived conflict of interest.

 

Mayor Ryan reiterated his argument: that Josh Burgoyne’s name had not been mentioned in relation to the reception, “which all councillors were invited to”. (Cr Banks claims that not all were.)

 

It was put to a vote that standing orders be removed to allow a free flow of debate. This was opposed by Deputy Mayor Matt Paterson and Cr Glen Auricht.

 

p2558 ASTC vote 660

 

Cr Melky could not recall an occasion when a candidate in an election had been given control of a function held on council property.  He said those who attended the reception who are councillors were not attending as councillors. In the second part of the event, a series of closed meetings with the PM, the invitee list was controlled by the organisers.

 

All this represented a lost opportunity of a proper mayoral reception for the PM, and had yielded none of the benefits of such in terms of announcements for the town.

 

He said the costs covered by the donation did not include the labour of rostered staff associated with the event, other than the overtime of the Executive Assistant.  Council regularly costs out labour involved with in-kind services.

 

He said the motion was about sending a message, for council not to get embroiled with political campaigns.

 

It would be interesting to see what happened, he speculated, if the Honourable Warren Snowdon said he’d like to use council facilities for his campaign, invited his leader there to overtly promote his election chances.

 

Cr Auricht began his contribution by describing the whole motion as “really quite petty”.

 

Cr Melky took umbrage: “petty” was insulting.

 

The atmosphere till then had been brittle but controlled. The temperature now rose a little.

 

“You’re also being insulting,” retorted Cr Auricht.

 

He went on to evoke the PM’s visit as “a great opportunity” for town however the invitation had come about. Council had been “courteous and gracious” to welcome him and make its facilities available.

 

He had met the PM briefly though he was there mainly as an observer. Half of the group attending were senior students from the town’s various colleges, whom the PM took time “to meet and greet’’.

 

The Federal government puts enormous amounts into Alice Springs through a huge variety of programs; the fact that the PM didn’t announce anything special was “not a big deal”, continued Cr Auricht.

 

But the PM did make some announcements, countered Cr Melky. He was “quite comfortable” promoting the candidate. Council has been compromised.

 

Cr Cocking, who at the committee meeting, as chair, had said little on the subject, now asked the CEO whether Senator Scullion had been charged for his recent use of the Andy McNeill Room for a community meeting.

 

Mr Mooney took the question on notice, though he said he frequently, “as a public relations exercise”, waives the fees for the room when it is used for community purposes.

 

Cr Cocking did not say much, but described the PM’s reception as “highly politicised” and “very much an endorsement and launching of the candidate”.

 

Deputy Mayor Paterson asked Mr Mooney to confirm that the outstanding balance for the event was now “zero”.

 

That was so, answered Mr Mooney, providing a breakdown of the total. (See at bottom).

 

Cr Melky reiterated his points about the costs not taken into account in that reckoning, the labour costs, the venue hire, including the Arunta Room for the series of closed meetings. If these costs had been waived, he wanted that acknowledged.

 

Mr Mooney said he would consider it “inappropriate” to attribute a cost to use of the Arunta Room no matter who the user (whether the PM or Mr Snowdon)

 

Cr Cocking said council should make sure that an invoice is raised so that the anonymous donor can declare it for tax purposes  [ED:- It was earlier reported that this was a declarable donation – not so.]

 

At this point standing orders were resumed, which meant that Cr Banks, as mover of the motion, could close the debate.

 

She said she did not accept that the reception had been in the best interest of the community. She had yet to hear a justification from the CEO that it was other than a political campaign held on council resources, time and money. Councillors de Brenni and Price’s acknowledgement of their conflict of interest was a reflection of its political character.

 

She argued that local government should be apolitical; she has no political party association herself, but was elected as a representative of the community on the basis of her values.

 

Although a councillor and a member of the Regional Economic Development Committee she had not been invited to any of the roundtable discussions with the PM. In choosing whom to invite to the REDC’s discussion with the PM, chair of the REDC, Cr de Brenni, had gone outside of that committee’s protocols. All committee members should have been invited, said Cr Banks.

 

She was concerned about a financial donation being paid to “an event that we haven’t even determined the outcome of”.

 

It would have been better for that donation to be paid “through the Senator’s office”, she argued.

 

She was also not comfortable with it being an anonymous donation: “We don’t have confidence that this is not a political involvement itself.”

 

Council’s involvement with the event breached the Local Government Act, she said, and it sets a precedent for political parties and groups to receive such support in the future: “It opens a can of worms.”

 

Mayor Ryan then put Cr Banks’s motion to a vote: it was carried.

 

The split was Crs Banks, Melky, Cocking and Satour for; Mayor Ryan, Deputy Mayor Paterson and Cr Auricht against.

 

Mayor Ryan quickly moved the meeting on. Whether there will be anything further flowing from the motion’s success is not clear.

 

For instance, will there be any formal acknowledgement of waived costs, as argued for by Cr Melky? Will there be any formalisation of protocols for future mayoral and civic receptions?  Time will tell.

 

Meanwhile, the successful quartet of councillors did not fare so well when it came to an attempt to revive Cr Melky’s lost motion from the committee meeting to reject voting on apologies from councillors unable to attend their end-of-month (Ordinary) council meetings.

 

Cr Melky saw this practice as part of an ongoing move towards a mode of “hostile governance” in council.

 

Although the practice is current in other municipal councils in the NT, as stated by Mayor Ryan, Cr Melky argued that it is not required under the Act and, in particular, there are no guidelines for refusing to accept an apology. He sees that as leaving council open to potential litigation, on grounds of discrimination, for instance.

 

Cr Cocking couldn’t see the point of the practice, except in relation to consecutive attendance, the main concern of the Act. He feared it would contribute to “potential bullying” and said it was important for councillors to feel comfortable to take leave if they needed to.

 

Cr de Brenni said his support for the practice was purely because the Department had advised that other municipals were doing it, that it had nothing to do with malice or bullying and that he respected the privacy of all elected members.

 

Cr Melky’s final comment was that the motion “brings up all of those anxieties that have been created over the last few months”, referring to the still unresolved matters of conflict of conduct complaints.

 

The complaints against him have been either dismissed or rejected but are still outstanding with regard to Crs Cocking and Catherine Satour. They appear to be particularly taking a toll of Cr Satour who was silent and unhappy during last night’s meeting.

 

These difficult matters aside, council did manage to get on with other business. It would be a mistake to assume that the meeting was totally dominated by conflict. Councillors heard from and had questions for a deputation on the current state of the local real estate market; they heard about the NT Government’s proposed new Youth Action Plan; they debated the issues around their own proposed greater involvement in youth and community safety issues (there are multiple meetings with other stakeholders coming up).

 

In fact, someone dropping into council during any one of these civilised interludes and leaving again would think: nothing to see here.

 

 

Breakdown of reception costs covered by the anonymous donor:

Sadadeen Catering:  $698.80

Coles supermarket: $55.86

Welcome to country: $300

Alice Springs Hospitality: $79.95 for a coffee machine, plus $49.95 for a glass coffee plunger (both items will be used for future events)

Overtime (three and a half hours) for the Executive Assistant: $225.35

Total: $1409.91

 

 

 

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22 Comments (starting with the most recent)

NB: If you want to reply to a previous comment, start your comment with this notation: @n where n is the number of the comment you want to reply to.
  1. John Bell
    Posted August 31, 2018 at 1:43 pm

    @ Local1: $300 for a Welcome to Country is chicken feed compared with the going rate down here in Melbourne Town Wiradjuri country. More than five and ten times that amount is usually the go, with competing elder groups jostling for position to get the gig. It tends to lose a bit of its oomph in this fiercely competitive monetary atmosphere.
    Then you toss in the imposed mysticism of a La La Green White local council eg Darebin Council that adds to the mix, declaring non-Australia Day and banning all white ratepayers from a Smoking Ceremony in Council Chambers on 26 January to give the finger to Captain Cook.
    All this from a moral-lecturing White Council that would not know a churinga from a chopstick – and it gets a bit much.
    Ernie Dingo and Richard Wally must be sitting back in Suby, enjoying a nice quiet ale, grinning, saying to each other: “Our job is done here!”
    I really like those two rascals. Richard was on our NASF Board in the 80s.
    Mind you, they may sincerely believe they have done a great thing. Good luck to them.

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  2. Dr Ongo
    Posted August 31, 2018 at 8:47 am

    Culturally Jacinta has no authority to do a welcome to Mparntwe. It needs to be an Mparntwe person. It is a tokenistic gesture. How many would leave if told they weren’t welcome?

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  3. Local 1
    Posted August 31, 2018 at 12:18 am

    $300 for a Welcome To Country? Seriously.
    Jacinta herself is a local woman, as are, I believe other councillors.
    Why are we / they / somebody paying for a tokenistic money making gesture that lasts for a couple of minutes and was invented by Ernie Dingo in 1974, and promoted as being a genuine cultural “thing” by NT Tourism shortly after.
    We are being sucked in more and more by this apologist rubbish. Even the ever increasing smoking ceremonies are being trotted out to appease the great apologist gods.
    Oh yes, we are basking in recently modernised traditions to show how much we accept the first nations people, all the while the abuse, poverty, homelessness issues continue for the real Aboriginal people out bush. Like the midwives saga, will we next be needing to apologise for our whiteness?

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  4. Hal Duell
    Posted August 30, 2018 at 1:39 pm

    It is a very good thing Cr Banks has done. Good for her own image as a Councillor of transpanency, and good for ASTC.
    I’m thinking of those councils in trouble over in Queensland, and I wonder how much of that trouble might have been avoided if every council employee, whether elected or hired, had known from their first day that there were NO free lunches.
    I think, and I like to think, that our Council is without reproach. Let’s keep it that way.

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  5. Andrew Connelan
    Posted August 29, 2018 at 10:10 pm

    800k for security cameras? What a bad joke. You know that it now costs money to access the footage. Another gift to CLP mates! A good earner if you get the contract but seriously Scullion has done sweet bugger all for Alice Springs Town Council
    Helping prevent crime. Whatever!

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  6. Prettysure
    Posted August 29, 2018 at 9:48 pm

    Kyle: Pretty sure that’s our money to start with, just like its our money which was collected in council rates to pay for what was in essence a political event.
    The simple fact of the matter is that whether it was, 1400 bucks or 14, it was an obvious conflict of interest and shouldn’t have been done in the public’s name. People in these positions know for instance not to accept gifts or favours for obvious legal and ethical reasons.
    These guys should have known better and the sooner everything is fessed up to and handled, the better.

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  7. Kyle
    Posted August 29, 2018 at 7:23 pm

    Wow the council wants Nigel to pay $1400 reception bill after he allocates $800,000 to the council for CCTV cameras to go throughout the town to help with our crime problems.
    I voted for this disrespectful block and I’d like to apologise.

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  8. Dr Ongo
    Posted August 29, 2018 at 4:05 pm

    OK, Melissa, so you think ratepayers should pay for federal political campaigns, good to know your position. Personally I think the parties should pay for their own campaigning.

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  9. Emma
    Posted August 29, 2018 at 3:25 pm

    Had Alice Springs Town Council managed the organisation, guest list and invitations for this event, instead of CLP Senator Nigel Scullion et al, then we probably wouldn’t be in this predicament, would we?

    But they didn’t, and here we are, so Cr Marli Banks is very right to be asking these questions to ensure accountability and transparency in our town council.

    I certainly don’t want the precedent to be set for ratepayers to be footing the bill for CLP (or any) candidate endorsement functions.

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  10. Steve Brown
    Posted August 29, 2018 at 1:43 pm

    There were very important representations made to the Prime Minister by community organisations grateful for a very rare opportunity to put their case directly to the top.
    I attended a round table with police talking about child abuse, DASA talking about a huge increase in ice abuse in our community.
    I was there to talk about the need to look after our street kids and the provision of a 24/7 drop in centre. I know Red Tails and others also contributed.
    The Prime Minister talked about putting together a regional plan. That was the level of discussion going on.

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  11. Mellisa
    Posted August 29, 2018 at 11:48 am

    @ Dr Ongo: Great point! Yes, I would want the council to invite and accommodate an afternoon for our probable next Prime Minister; Mr Bill Shorten.
    Simply a matter of course and if the Honourable Warren Snowden was present it would make absolute sense that they shared the afternoon. I wonder if these beautiful, intelligent Anatidae family [ the biological family of birds that includes ducks, geese, and swans] within the council (yes, unavailing vernacular) would have protested?

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  12. Local2
    Posted August 29, 2018 at 11:15 am

    @ Local1 you say: “Just in case a PM decides to visit”!!??
    The PM came specifically to support Jacinta Price’s political campaign!
    The Alice Springs Town Council is being used as a plaything for Country Liberal Party aspirations and as a ratepayer I say this stinks! I applaud all Councillors who stay strong on this matter!
    Mari Banks, fantastic stuff! It takes a tough person to stand up to this rot and you have my vote because of it!
    CLP interests are NOT Alice Springs interests!
    @ Steve Brown and others. Why are ex-councillors getting involved in this Council in such a partisan way?! They are bringing the Council into disrepute just when we need a council to stand strongly and independently from the NT Government … and of course this is not mentioning the circus that is the Federal Government!
    The CLP has used the ASTC as its plaything for too long and it just crossed the line!

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  13. Steve Brown
    Posted August 29, 2018 at 6:56 am

    One of the primary roles a council performs for its community is public relations, meeting greeting guests, trying to give a friendly welcoming all round good impression of the community.
    Acting like a sales person if you like, in selling the benefits of our community to the world.
    Individuals, businesses, governments of all persuasions from all levels are lobbied.
    Considering this role, do we seriously think spending $1400 on greeting the leader of the nation is an issue?
    Wouldn’t you think that greeting the distributor of the vast amounts of government funding this community receives would be just plain respectful good manners?
    I am utterly appalled ashamed at the actions of four small minded disrespectful councillors who cannot put aside petty personality politics for five minutes to support the greater interest of this community.
    It is an indictment of the farcical electoral system which throws up such narcissistic individuals who clearly place no value on the gains of our community, simply intent on creating obnoxious, always contrary mayhem to cover a contemuously lazy and disrespectful approach for the role to which were elected.

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  14. Local1
    Posted August 28, 2018 at 9:39 pm

    I would have been more surprised if a current sitting PM was not offered hospitality and a civic reception by the local council.
    I would think many towns much larger than ours would fall over themselves to host the PM and have him make reference to the warm welcome and hospitality of Alice Springs.
    OK, Jacinta is running for Parliment, was it really a campaign launch?
    What if there was a Labour candidate there as well, would they be rude and not attend due to the fact they are of different political persuasion?
    Is a councillor now prevented from chasing political aspirations just in case a PM decides to visit?
    What a storm in a teacup, naturally if it is a blue teacup that too would be a conflict of interest and Councilor Price should pay for it.

    View Comment
  15. Domenico Pecorari
    Posted August 28, 2018 at 5:32 pm

    You are right, Evelyne, geese are wonderful watch animals. We need more of them on council to keep the place honest. This “donation” debacle looks like, sounds like and smells like part of a cover-up to me. Honk, honk.

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  16. Evelyne Roullet
    Posted August 28, 2018 at 4:45 pm

    Mellisa, you have not offended me, and I am not attacking you, I make statements expressing what I feel.
    You are speaking of contributors to Alice,may I ask how long you have been in town?
    I have been in the NT since 1971 and in Alice since 1974.You do not know my political allegiance so you cannot speak for me.
    You talk of geese and water birds so let me tell you that the goose is one of the most intelligent birds. It has a good memory and does not forget people, animals or situations easily which is what makes it such a good watch animal against intruders whether human or animal. So yes, thank God for the geese of the Council.
    Maybe like your own words “Maybe, for the sake of openness and transparency”, go public with your opinions.

    View Comment
  17. Dr Ongo
    Posted August 28, 2018 at 4:43 pm

    Melissa would you be happy for council to pay for Warren Snowdon’s campaign launch? Or for a reception for Bill Shorten to support Wazza’s election?

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  18. Mellisa
    Posted August 28, 2018 at 3:26 pm

    @ Evelyne Roullet: I am so sorry to offend you and now understand why these geese are there. They certainly do not represent the contributors to Alice, just the ones that would prefer Jacinta not to speak her mind.
    If political bias and tax payer money was a real concern, then the likes of these water fowl are as guilty as anyone serving.
    Maybe, for the sake of openness and transparency, all councillors should publicly declare who they vote for and where the funding comes from for their other avocations.
    I’m guessing some of the dissenters might put their hands out for public funding. Some might even owe some sort of allegiance to our very own NT Government for handouts already received.
    BTW, is my last name a concern for you?
    I would have thought that attacking my comments would be suffice on such a platform, unless of course you have ulterior motives.

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  19. Evelyne Roullet
    Posted August 28, 2018 at 2:35 pm

    No Melissa, it is not just about the money, but the principle of the whole exercise:the taxpayers paid for the trip and the ratepayers for the function.This does not seem right to me.Why the then PM did not come when he went to Tennant Creek, if it was just a concern for us? Thank God for the “geese”( by the way it takes one to know one) we have elected in Council.
    Those “geese” do not hide their identity, but you hide yours. Put your name on insults please.

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  20. Mellisa
    Posted August 28, 2018 at 1:44 pm

    This was all over $1409.91. What a joke and waste of council time, but I guess the likes of Melky and co are there to just stir trouble for no tangible outcome.
    Who elected these geese!
    Maybe we should sack half the councillors and bureaucrats in the civic centre and start employing people that make a difference to Alice Springs.
    Here’s a thought, maybe employ more at the council depot where the only real effort is made anyway.

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  21. Karen Elliot
    Posted August 28, 2018 at 1:28 pm

    This is appalling! The donation should have been paid to Cr Price and then she should have footed the bill. I’m disgusted at this politicking and that the council hosted the PM in this way. What a rort!

    Thanks to Cr Banks for following through. Get it together ASTC.

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  22. Carolyn
    Posted August 28, 2018 at 1:27 pm

    From what I’ve read above, Cr Price removed herself from discussions x2 due to conflict of interest, yet this COI doesn’t extend to costs & resouces incurred ??
    …what is due process then if the donation hadn’t come in ?
    or is this reflective of how matters are managed – i.e. money talks?
    Good on Cr Banks, I say.

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