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Council Expenditures / Local Government Act

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Mark Brindal, Former Local Government Minister (5AA 11.07-11.18) Council expenditures / Local Government Act

(Byner: The juggernaut of local councils has come to prominence again because a CEO at Onkaparinga was given membership to an exclusive golf club at several thousand dollars’ cost to ratepayers … the Ombudsman had a look at this, he is the independent arbiter. He had two important findings; there was no maladministration … but a council CEO should be, according to the Ombudsman, approachable and accessible to all members of the community and those who attend a private golf club should not be provided additional access to the CEO at a cost to all ratepayers. Wayne Lines, he’s the Ombudsman, he said the council was wrong to cover up the payment and to approve it in the first place … councils are not businesses, they are statutory authorities with powers from the State Government to extract taxes and rates. Having an ABN … doesn’t change this. This lesson seems to be almost impossible for current councils in many cases to understand. When there is a massive gap between extremely well-paid council officials and ordinary home owners, communication becomes almost impossible because the concerns down every street are beneath contempt by the wealthy who occupy council offices. In a state that everyone considers broken and broke this is untenable and signals to the rest of the world that we cannot cut our cloth according to circumstances. The sooner we get an Estimates-type audit open to the public about council expenditures as we have in State politics I think the more trusting ratepayers might become … Mark Brindal, you were a Minister for Local Government and you had a lot to do with the Local Government Act under which councils work, what have you got to say on this?) … it took 70 years to reform the Local Government Act, the original Local Government Act was 1927, it took us ‘til around the year 2000 the reform that Act. We did the best we could, and I think we produced a fairly good result however there are things wrong and that Act is now 10 years old, it needs reforming again, it needs to fix the sorts of problems that you’ve rightly highlighted to your listeners. The Act is clear … the guy who runs the council … the CEO doesn’t run it for himself … doesn’t run it as a business, he runs it for the ratepayers and the people who govern for the ratepayers are the Mayor and the elected members, so pray tell me why a CEO needs to be a member of a golf club at all … I heard on your program some fatuous excuse that maybe some Chinese might like to come and involve themselves in Onkaparinga. Well if they do well and good but that’s the Mayor’s job, that’s the elected council’s job. It’s the CEO’s job to run the council, nothing more, nothing less … as for the Ombudsman and look I agree with him but as for him saying people in the golf clubs are going to get preferential treatment that’s a good point except I’d like to ask … how many Onkaparinga residents do your listeners think might be members of the Kooyonga Golf Club? It’s not even in Onkaparinga, it’s miles away, so covering up all these sorts of things are wrong. The Local Government Act that we put in place sought to make Local Government transparent … there are a number of mechanisms in there, the first thing that Local Government did was work out how to put up the blinds again and get rid of the transparency and in some ways they’ve done it quite well, that’s why the Parliament needs to get back in there and say, no this is going to be transparent, you are going to be accountable to your ratepayers and we’re not putting up with this bull … and veils that you’re currently pulling over our eyes. (Byner: … stay on the line.)

John Darley, Nick Xenophon Team MLC (5AA 11.11-11.17) Council expenditures / Local Government Act

(Byner: John Darley … what’s your contribution to this?) … I entirely agree with what Mark is saying … just off the cuff I looked at about seven matters of the Act that need to be looked at and there must be many more … we have the situation today with the payment of the golf club fees and I agree with Mark on that, then you have another situation where CEOs are given extra 10 days’ leave … I don’t see any CEOs of Government departments being given extra 10 days’ leave. You’ve got another situation that councillors have approached me and that’s about CEOs … approving salary increases for staff with no input from the councillors themselves. There’s the matter of codes of conduct that fly around in council chambers these days, that needs looking at, there are … breaches of the Act for which there are no penalty concerning conflict of interest … I’m aware of I think in an Ombudsman’s Report not this year but last year, it talked about changes that should be made to the Local Government Act … there are a whole number of things that should be looked at. (Byner: Stay on the line.)

Matt Pinnegar, CEO, Local Government Association (5AA 11.13-11.17) Council expenditures / Local Government Act

(Byner: Matt Pinnegar … what’s your take on this?) … we’ve very transparent … anybody can walk into any council right now and find out any remuneration information about CEOs and other council staff, they literally just have to go in and ask and that doesn’t happen with any other level of Government … we also, the LGA, publishes a CEO remuneration report every year which has every CEO’s salary and benefits in it … (Byner: You are avoiding what we’re actually talking about. The only reason we’re discussing this … is that Wayne Lines released part of his adjudication of an issue that was controversial. It was specific about a matter with a golf club fee paid by ratepayers and whether or not it should have been paid or not. Can you address that?) Yeah, so what the LGA will do is develop some guidelines around a model register just to make sure that councils can be consistent about what should be included in the register which is already available for the public to access and what shouldn’t be … that’s something that we’ll do but I just want to make it clear that the Ombudsman hasn’t contacted the LGA on this matter … (Byner: Well why should he …) … we believe that we are very transparent … CEO remuneration, you can go to our website right now and look at what every CEO gets paid. (Byner: Yeah, but he was asked to investigate a specific matter with the Onkaparinga Council, he did that. Why would he want to talk to you, you probably didn’t even know about it until it was released to the media.) Ah, no I didn’t. (Byner: Well there you are, so what’s the point of him talking to you?) I just wanted to make it very clear Leon that anyone that has any interest or concerns about what salaries are in their council can under the Act now walk straight into a council and access that information. We’re very transparent about what CEOs are getting paid and we do a report every year on what CEOs are getting paid, which is available on our website for anybody to access. (Byner: … thank you.)

Back to Mark Brindal

(Byner: So Mark Brindal, what do you make of this?) … I would love to have challenged the gentleman from the LGA … and challenged him severely … (Byner: Well he’s still listening, on what?) Alright … yes, the transparency is there for salaries … because it is mandated under the Act but the first thing when the Act came in it also demanded a stated rating policy to be published and online and frankly the first thing that councils did in concert with the LGA was get their lawyers to come up with some gobbledygook that fulfilled the requirements of the Act, but told the ratepayers nothing about how the money was being spent because spending of public money is not just payment to the CEO, it is the whole kit and caboodle and the LGA represents the amalgam of Local Government. Local Government is there because it is a statute of State Parliament. State Parliament creates and limits and allows Local Government to exist, so turning around and putting the LGA up as some sort of arbitrary body that is independent, like the courts are independent, is a lot of rubbish. It’s Caesar judging Caesar.

Back to Matt Pinnegar

(Byner: Matt Pinnegar, what do you say to that?) Every single council in South Australia does an annual report which outlines every item of expenditure that they have, every single council in South Australia has an audit committee, an independent committee which examines all of the finances of a council. We are the most scrutinised level of Government, we are the most transparent level of Government. There is no other sphere of Government where you can walk in to a department and ask to see a register of what people are getting paid. There is no other level of Government where you can walk in and ask for the CEO’s remuneration. We go out of our way because we want to ensure that our communities know how their money is being spent and I would encourage anyone that has any issues or concerns about how salaries are going in their council to walk in and ask for a copy of the register or to be able to have a look at that register.

Back to John Darley

(Byner: John Darley, what do you say to this?) Well I’ve got plenty to say about that … this is how archaic this mob are because we’ve had occasions where we wanted to get details of CEO salaries and staff salaries, not by name, and you know what they say … not all of them but some say, “oh you’ve got to come here and get it”, why can’t that detail be on their website? (Byner: Alright … do you think the Local Government Act needs work?) Absolutely. (Byner: Yeah.)

Back to Mark Brindal

(Byner: And you do too, Mark?) Absolutely. (Byner: Gentlemen, thanks for joining us.)

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