Questions of conflict multiplied by two

By KIERAN FINNANE

 

 

Just in time for Deputy Mayor Matt Paterson’s announcement of his candidacy in the forthcoming Territory election, council’s Conflict Management Policy was up for discussion at last night’s committees meeting.

 

Although this issue has been exhaustively thrashed out in public, the policy was curiously in the confidential papers.

 

Director of Corporate Services Sabine Taylor said it could be brought into open once council had accepted the policy.

 

Councillor Eli Melky, however, moved to have it brought into open immediately, seconded Cr Jimmy Cocking, with CEO Robert Jennings agreeing that he couldn’t see any requirement for it to remain in confidential.

 

Mayor Damien Ryan, whose candidacy in the election has been known for months and already the subject of controversy over perceived conflicts of interest, left the meeting.

 

Cr Melky asked DM Paterson whether he should leave.

 

Ms Taylor said she saw no conflict for either the mayor or the deputy mayor in being present to discuss policy in the area. The CEO agreed.

 

DM Paterson stayed. The mayor was invited to return but decided not to.

 

Right: Mayor Ryan’s vacated Zoom location (the library). 

 

While the policy maintains the position that there is no conflict of interest in councillors running for election in another tier of government, Ms Taylor explained the notion of “conflict of duty”. If there were potential for any such conflict for Elected Members, their duty would be first and foremost to council as its membership is the “substantive” position held.

 

One of the requirements of the proposed new policy – a “matter of fairness” for all –  is that all Elected Members notify the CEO of the community-related meetings they are attending in the three months leading up to the election.

 

Cr Cocking argued this would be onerous indeed: as he sits on a couple of boards and heads up a community organisation, he attends countless meetings every week. The policy needs a definition of “community”.

 

She will provide one, said Ms Taylor.

 

Cr Marli Banks said some criteria for what qualifies as a meeting are also needed.

 

Ms Taylor suggested Elected Members use their best judgment for  this.

 

DM Paterson had no argument with disclosing his meetings, but he wanted to know what the difference is, in relation to a conflict of interest, between being a member of a political party and being a candidate. He suggested members of parties should also have to declare that fact.

 

Cr Cocking agreed party membership should be written into the register of interests, but he did see a difference: once you are a candidate running for political office, it must be clear whether you are talking to people as a councillor or as a candidate.

 

Cr Melky, while commending councillors who put themselves forward as candidates, also saw a “big difference”. A candidate has entered a contest from which the benefits, potentially, are financial reward, power, access to resources.

 

Both he and Cr Banks mentioned the particular difficulty looming for council with both its “principal” (the mayor) and deputy running in the election. Who should be then the official voice for council?

 

No doubt, the policy will be tweaked before it comes up for a vote at the end of the month.

 

 

 

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One Comment (starting with the most recent)

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  1. Posted May 13, 2020 at 8:57 am

    Local government in Alice Springs (let alone the Territory) has been used as a launch pad for attempted political careers for decades (the overwhelming majority of them have failed); and membership of political parties has been commonplace for aldermen and councillors over the years.
    The situation now, of both a mayor and prominent councillor running for office in the upcoming Territory elections, echoes the circumstances in Alice Springs 30 years ago for the election campaign of October 1990.
    However, there are some twists from the earlier period. Alderman Bob Kennedy was announced first (in early August 1990) as the CLP candidate for the new seat of Greatorex, running against the conservative independent Member for Sadadeen, Denis Collins.
    Mayor Leslie Oldfield announced her intention to run as an independent candidate against CLP Member for Braitling, Roger Vale, just three weeks (as it turned out) from the beginning of the election campaign – although at the time of her stated intentions, the elections weren’t due until April 1991.
    The question of conflict of interest for both candidates never arose at that time.
    Both candidates lost; Oldfield was trounced while Bob Kennedy easily won the primary vote in Greatorex but narrowly lost on preferences to Denis Collins.
    The next mayor of Alice Springs to run as a candidate for a Territory election campaign was Fran Kilgariff, as the Labor candidate for Greatorex in 2005.
    She was criticised on the issue of potential conflict of interest but the then Martin Labor Government had no problem with her remaining as mayor in the months prior to the election campaign.
    Mayor Kilgariff lost that campaign too (in fact, no mayor who has run for office in the NT Legislative Assembly was successful).
    So current mayor Damien Ryan is in good company; although it’s ironic that Chief Minister Michael Gunner, successor of former CM Clare Martin as the Member for Fannie Bay, has made much of Ryan’s perceived conflict of interest as a CLP candidate this time around.
    Horses for courses.
    For both long-serving mayors Leslie Oldfield and Fran Kilgariff, their tilts at office in Territory election campaigns proved to be their last hurrahs in local government. Oldfield was defeated in the council elections of 1992 while Kilgariff retired in 2008.
    I suspect, one way or another, the same will occur again for the current incumbent.

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