Gunner demands council deal with Mayor’s ‘conflict of interest’

Above: Damien Ryan CLP candidate for Araluen, far right, pictured with fellow CLP candidates, from left, Gerard Maley (Nelson), Marie-Clare Boothby (Brennan), Joshua Burgoyne (Braitling), Bill Yan (Namatjira), Gary Higgins (has since stepped down as Leader of the Opposition and will resign at the end of the term as Member for Daly), Lia Finocchiaro, new Leader of the Opposition, (Spillet). Photo: CLP website.

 

By KIERAN FINNANE

 

Hot topic for the first Town Council meeting of the year will be Mayor Damien Ryan’s perceived conflict of interest now that he is the endorsed CLP candidate for Araluen in the next Legislative Assembly election.

 

Chief Minister Michael Gunner has declined to answer December correspondence from the Mayor, on behalf of council, until council advises on how it will deal with what he says is the Mayor’s conflict of interest.

 

The correspondence in question concerned “crime and the healthy future of our community”, including a request to  the government to establish a 24 hour drop-in centre.

 

Deputy Chief Minister Nicole Manison has also weighed in. While she responded to the substance of correspondence, she also asked how council will manage the alleged conflict of interest.

 

“This will inform how the Chief Minister and my colleagues correspond and work with the Council in the months ahead,” she wrote.

 

However, Town Council solicitor Chris Turner has examined the relevant legislation and implied constitutional right. He advises: “As an elected member, [Mayor Ryan] is entitled to his views whether or not they align with a political party and whether or not he chooses to stand for election.”

 

Critical to this advice are the provisions of Section 73(2) of the present Local Government Act to the effect that  having “an interest” does not  amount to having a “conflict of interest” if that interest is shared “in common with the general public or a substantial section of the public”.

 

The language is similar in Section 114(1) of the new Local Government Act, which has been enacted and will come into force from July 1 this year.

 

Says Mr Turner: “Politics pervades all areas of life, including the civic arena, and cannot be quarantined from it. The words ‘personal or financial’ connote something of individual benefit to the member or an associate rather than shared political views. If the intention of the Legislature was that political affiliation would give rise to the need for a declaration, it would have done so in explicit terms and would have been a brave one at that – for civic representation is very often the breeding ground for Territory or Federal political careers.”

 

Nonetheless, he has some advice on the limits of campaigning:

 

“In my view, it would be unwise (but not unlawful) for the candidate to willingly allow him or herself to be referred to as the president, mayor, councillor or member. If so, they should immediately remind the interviewer that they are not representing the views of council in any way whatsoever and are standing on a party platform. They should never ascribe to themselves the achievements of a council or attempt to denigrate the council or its deeds or any member (unless perhaps that member also stands).”

 

Referring specifically to Mayor Ryan as  the CLP endorsed candidate, Mr Turner assumes that his views and votes in council on issues such as “the proposed National [Aboriginal] Art Gallery, a youth curfew, other community safety initiatives, projects specific to the Araluen electorate” will reflect the CLP position.

 

This is his right, says Mr Turner, as it is the right of any other elected member.

 

“I would conclude that in terms of the application of the relevant legislation, the circumstances giving rise to the need for this Council to manage conflicts on interests of Mayor Ryan would seem to be minimal.”

 

Discussion of the issues at tonight’s meeting will be reported tomorrow.

 

 

 

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8 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. Ben
    Posted January 30, 2020 at 10:08 pm

    Yet the same party had no issues when Ryan’s predecessor ran for the seat of Greatorex when she was an ALP candidate.

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  2. Curious
    Posted January 29, 2020 at 12:01 pm

    I feel the referencing of the Local Govt Act by ASTC in terms of it’s purely “legal” requirements, as I understnd has been the case based on the advice revceived from ASTC’s solicitor, Mr Chris Turner, is a bit of a furphy and perhaps misguided in the context of the situation.
    In a very similar current Australian Government context, this purely “legal” standpoint is currently being used by the Coalition A/Govt, Bridget McKenzie and supporters to defend her “sports rots” situation. She has done nothing wrong … “legally”, they/she says.
    That may be the case.
    But what about morally and ethically?
    Does it pass the Pub Test?
    Some expert professors I have recently heard on radio commenting on the situation have stated quite clearly that whilst it may be “legal” it could still be seen as “corrupt” conduct.
    So even “corrupt” conduct could actually be legal?
    I’m still trying to get my head around that one!
    I note ASTC have recently expressed a similar purely “legal” defence when a complaint was lodged that they had not consulted with the community on a particular local issue / development.
    ASTC’s response on that occasion was similarly that they had no “legal” requirement to consult with the community under the requirements of the Local Government Act.
    Even though the ASTC Code of Conduct for Members (Policy #105) clearly states “members have a duty to uphold the law and to act on all ocasions in accordance with the law, the policies of council and the trust placed in them by the public …”
    In accordance with the “policies of council”. Trust?
    One such Council Policy (Consultation Policy #106) requires ASTC (and as an extension, its members) to consult with the community, in fairly specific terms.
    So whilst the Local Government t Act doesn’t “legally” require council to consult with the community, as council pointed out on that occasion, its own ASTC policies #105 and #106 actually do.
    But, apparently, the Local Government Act trumps ASTC’s own policies.
    Which, when push comes to shove, pretty much renders the vast majority of ASTC’s own policies as non-enforceable, pointless and not worth the paper they are written on.
    They are more “guides” to be adopted or discarded by Council, entirely at its own discretion and volition.
    Does this pass the “Pub Test”?
    Likewise, does / should purely “legal reliance” on the Local Government Act?
    Are there no ethical or moral considerations to be met?
    It appears not.
    Finally, I understand Chris Turner has now been ASTC’s resident solicitor for about 20+ continuous years.
    Perhaps, given this very long period of tenure, a 2nd legal opinion would not be out of order in line with the motion put forward by councillors at last night’s Ordinary Meeting (note: this in no way undermines or questions Mr Turner’s long and well respected standing in the Alice Springs community or as a lawyer or his ability to perform his duties in a fair, unbiased and equitable manner).

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  3. Psuedo Guru
    Posted January 28, 2020 at 7:53 pm

    NT is bankrupt. Doesn’t matter who wins.

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  4. John Bell
    Posted January 28, 2020 at 7:20 pm

    Interesting discussion.
    A wider issue arising is the role of local council in the separation of powers in state and federal governance.
    Section 73(2) shows how grey is the area of where local government sits, and sees itself as sitting in our governance structure.
    The fact that the legal interpretation of “conflict of interest” does not encompass political interest is significant, I feel.
    It appears to suggest that local council charter is being interpreted more and more to treat political aspiration as a given part of a councillor’s normal role.
    Any councillor can assume his or her position on council is a legalised normal stepping stone to Parliament.
    A review of local council charter should address the vexed issue of the evolving role of council duties from roads rates and rubbish collection. In the public interest.

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  5. Litmus
    Posted January 28, 2020 at 5:26 pm

    Alex Nelson. As always accurate and insightful, your input is valued.

    View Comment
  6. Posted January 28, 2020 at 1:59 pm

    Damien Ryan is the third mayor of Alice Springs to stand as a candidate for a Territory election campaign, the two previous being Leslie Oldfield in 1990 and Fran Kilgariff in 2005.
    Leslie Oldfield stood as an independent candidate for the seat of Braitling, against sitting CLP member Roger Vale – an interesting contrast to the current situation of CLP candidate Damien Ryan contesting Araluen against sitting independent member Robyn Lambley.
    Lambley is a former CLP member, while Oldfield had once been Roger Vale’s electorate officer!
    Fran Kilgariff stood as a Labor candidate for the seat of Greatorex, held by the CLP’s Dr Richard Lim.
    The NT Government in 2005 was also Labor, under CM Clare Martin, predecessor as Member for Fannie Bay of current CM Michael Gunner.
    Apparently NT Labor didn’t have a problem back in 2005 with the mayor of Alice Springs running as a Labor candidate; and it’s rather disingenuous of Labor now to argue differently about Damien Ryan standing for the CLP.
    In 2005 I had a series of articles published in the Alice Springs News commenting about NT politics, in one of which I pointed out that no mayor in the NT who had run as a candidate for the NT Legislative Assembly had been successful; and I was virtually alone in my assertion that Fran Kilgariff would equally prove unsuccessful.
    That situation still stands and, frankly, I think will remain the case after the NT elections later this year.

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  7. Paul Lelliott
    Posted January 28, 2020 at 12:53 pm

    In my opinion Mayor Ryan has contributed overall to the ethical governance of council matters in Alice Springs from an extremely restricted position within council.
    I really believe Mayors and their fellow councillors across Australia should be empowered to take on greater responsibilities in areas such as crime, cultural awareness, inclusion and quality of life aspirations.
    Until legislation is introduced to give us the Mayoral leadership at a local level that we desperately need then singular comments as in the post above should be reserved for cheap political debate.

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  8. Liberal
    Posted January 28, 2020 at 11:22 am

    Of course the mayor hasn’t a conflict of interest, he hasn’t been interested in Alice Springs for a long long time!

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