Wednesday, November 30, 2005

City Council takes the first step to restore public access to information

Melbourne City Councillors call on the City administration to reinstate publication of the City Council’s Interstate and Overseas Travel Register.

Melbourne City council’s Finance and Corporate Performance committee voted unanimously for the resolution put forward by Councillor Brian Shanahan for the City of Melbourne to reinstate the publication of City Council's Travel Register. The meeting was attended by all councillors.

The recommendation of the Finance and Corporate Performance Committee will now go to the full Council meeting in December 13, 2005

Under the current terms of reference the City of Melbourne’s Finance and Corporate Services committee can not resolve or act under delegation any issues related to the City Council's Governance.

Where to from here?

All decisions on Governance must be determined by resolution of the full council. Previously the Finance committee was able to consider and make direct requests on governance issues.

The City Council administration snuck in the changes to the terms of reference of the Finance Committee, at the first meeting of the newly elected Council, removing the direct say and involvement of the committee in the governance of the Council.

The current requirements under the committee’s terms of reference give extra opportunity for the Council administration to seek to undermine the resolve of the Council in what is considered as a seasoned “Yes Minister” ploy. (Reference to a BBC sitcom on Westminster politics)

Update: (Dec 1, 2005) Unconfirmed minutes of the Melbourne City Council's Finance and Corporate Performance (sic) committee have been published.

It seams that supporting argument and discussion have been left out of the minutes (we note that comments submitted to the committee related to Cr Bindley's overseas African safari and Council's funding of third party organisations executive expenses has no mention - Did the administration act in good faith and present the comments for consideration - no answers no responce?)

We will have to wait to see the recipe for the pudding before we bring out the plates.

Link to un-confirmed minuets

The Travel Register:

The Travel Register records all staff and councillor overseas and interstate travel and is required to be maintained by the City Council under regulation 11 of the Local Government (General) Regulations 2004.

The Travel register is a public document and was previously published and available on the Council’s web site but removed, without consent or authority by the elected council, in what is considered a cynical move by the Council administration in seeking to avoid disclosure and accountability.

The City Council administration have previously acted to avoid publication and accountability for staff travel and we believe they will continue to do so.

Whilst this is a good sign and perceived victory for the push for honest open and transparent governance we will not be celebrating until we see the proof of the pudding.

The silly season in the lead-up to the Christmas and New-Year break is upon us and anything can happen.

Our sources in the City Council Governance Department say that Ms Allison Lyon, Council legal officer, sought to sidetrack the resolve of the Council Committee by making specious claims that the publication of Council’s Travel Register would breach privacy entitlement of Council staff and possible be in beach of staff’s employment contracts.

Allison Lyons has spent thousands of dollars of limited Council resources in her on going attempt to avoid open disclosure of this information and public accountability.

The Travel Register is a public document required by regulation to be accessible and open to the public.

The information recorded on the Travel Register is not private information. It is the detailed costs to ratepayers associated with Councillor and staff interstate and overseas travel. All staff employment contracts are, supposedly, in accordance and fulfilment of the requirements outline in the Victorian Local Government Act and its regulation.

Given that the City of Melbourne has a large number of interstate and overseas investors with a stake-holder interest in the City of Melbourne, access to this information via the internet is in accordance with good governance practices. It is the most effective and efficient means of communication.

This is not the first time Ms Lyons has sort to spend ratepayers information seeking to prevent access to public documents.

In 1999-2001 Ms Lyon wasted over $60,000.00 of ratepayers’ money trying to prevent the publication of detailed results of the Melbourne City Council elections.

The Victorian Civil Administrative Tribunal headed by Senior Member Mr McNamara, in determination of an application made under Freedom of Information Act ordered the City Council to provide access to the detailed elections results without reserving his decision.

The outcome of this case was obvious to everyone but Ms Lyons and the Council’s Governance department. The fact that the decision was made without reservation immediately after the closing statement by the City Council’s legal representative indicated the poor quality judgement and professional advice given to the City Council at the time.

Further reports and updates as they come to hand

Monday, November 28, 2005

City Councilors express concern at administration avoiding accountability

Melbourne City Councillors have express concern at the decision of the administration to withdraw from publication the Council's official Travel Register.

The Travel Register records the cost of each interstate and overseas travel undertaken by staff and councillors and is required to be be maintained under the provisions of the Local Government (Genral) Regulations 2004 (r11). It is a public document so why is it not on the Council's Internet site? What are the staff trying to hide? Obvious! The extent and cost of staff travelling interstate and overseas at ratepayers expense.

This register was previously published on the Council's Internet site but was quickly withdrawn and hidden from view following the election of a new Council.

Melbourne City Councillors were not consulted or asked if the Travel Register should be withdrawn. The administration acted on their own volition.

The City council has come under intense pressure to reinstate the publication of the Travel register and ensure it is maintained and kept up to date.

The public have a right to know and the Internet is the best way to ensure that this information is made available.

Councillor's Shanahan, Snedden and Clarke has all expressed concern about its withdrawal an believe that the register should be re-instated

It is still unclear if this issue will be raised at tomorrows Finance and Corporate Performance (sic) committee meeting tomorrow (Tuesday Nov 29).

Letters requesting the Council to list and consider this issue were sent to the City Council weeks in advance of the meeting but the administration have failed to include it on the meeting as published agenda. This raised on going concern as to the professionalism of the Council's Governance department and whether they have acted in good faith by not listed it on the agenda for tomorrow nights committee meeting.

The Council administration it appears will go to any length to avoid publication and accountability.

We wait with interest to see what transpires at the meeting tomorrow. Keep am eye on Alison Lyon's, Council Legal Officer, to see what arguments she comes up with to try and avoid publication. Alison Lyons has come under ongoing criticism for her advice and questionable actions in the past.

Hopefully the Council will act and not have the wool pulled over them by Ms Lyon once more.

We will be watching with interest and will certainly report on the outcome of this meeting as soon as we can.
John Vogel's, State opposition spokesperson for Local Government, comments advocating a "first-past-the-post" voting system (Herald Sun Nov 28) demonstrates his inability to understand the mechanics and principles of Australia's democratic elections.

Link to original article in the Herald-Sun

First-past-the-post elections are not the solution to the perceived problem of "dummy" candidates, they will always exist, genuine or not.

At least with a preferential ballot voters are given a choice to determine who they elect to represent them with the assurance that a candidate must receive and absolute majority (50% + 1) of voters support

Under a first-past-the-post election a candidate can be elected with less then 35% of the vote, as was the case with George Bush's election in 2000, the only requirement being that they have the highest minoity number of votes as opposed to a majority.

Give me a majority elected candidate over a minority supported candidate any day.

Democracy is not perfect but it is the best system we have.

Australia should stand proud of its preferential voting system and not pander to the ill informed.

Other Countries such as England, The United States Canada and Ukraine would be better off if they adopted our preferential voting system.

Sunday, November 27, 2005

Coming to a flight centre near you - Melbourne City Council Travel

Melbourne City Councillors are at it again - Travelling the world, staying at five star hotels all funded by the Melbourne ratepayer

Link to original story in the Herald-Sun

This explains why the City of Melbourne Councillors have been silent in not wanting to disclose the true figure and costs of Council interstate and overseas travel. They have been bought.

Seduced by the dark-side of local government administration. "You scratch my back and I will scratch yours". Shame on you all for not defending the right for the public to know and being compliant in a cover-up of avoidance.

You can run, you can fly but you will be held to account.

We have FoI the City of Melbourne and as soon as they respond we will publish what they wont. the Council's travel register showing the full cost of travel including staff travel. The Council failing to publish the Travel register on the internet and instead requiring copies of the data to be obtained only through FoI is an abuse of process. Something that may interest the Ombudsman, We will wait and see how quick they respond to our FoI request before lodging yet again another complaint to the State Ombudsman.

Last time what we discovered is that the City of Melbourne had embarked on a bit of creative accounting bringing into question the quality of their accounts and the Audit. That's right Deputy Lord Mayor Cr Garry Singer is the chairman of the Council's Audit Committee. The same Cr Garry Singer who earlier on was found to be guilty of professional financial mismanagement. (See earlier posts)

It turned out that over $8,000 was unaccounted for and some of the expenses for our Councillors were pickup and put on the staff, who accompanied our globe trotting Councillors, corporate tab account thus reducing the amount disclosed on the Councillor expense report. - Creative really, no wonder we pay them so much with talents like this.

Green's Councillor Frazer Brindley has proven he is not as Green as his predecessor David Risstrom. David Risstrom was the most travelled of the previous Council having talked the City Council into funding the costs associated with his executive responsibilities of a International environment group. To David's credit he flew economy and stayed in cheap accommodation limiting the burden on the poor ratepayer.

Not so for Cr Brindley. According to the Herald-Sun report Cr Brindley is seeking approval for $9,000 to cover the costs of a proposed seven day African safari trip to Cape Town to attend an ICLEI conference.

Cr Brindley has sent in an email saying that he will be flying economy and staying in cheap accommodation (Is that with or without aircon?)

Cr Brindley said "the council only approved trips for councillors after serious consideration of benefits for Melbourne" If this is the case then why has Geoff Lalor, City Director of Sustainability applied for the sum of $9,000.00 to be set aside for this trip? Could this be another case of staff over-inflating the budget cost of Councillor's overseas travel?

we call on the City Council to provide a breakdown of the costs (accommodation, airfare and extras) for all overseas and interstate travel so the public can ascertain if they are getting value for money

Cr Brindley is an executive member of ICLEI and has managed to obtain approval from the Council to fund the costs of his international travel to attend executive meeting.

ICLEI is a third party international environment group, which begs the answer to the question Why is the City of Melbourne expected to pick up the tab for the costs of a third party organisation's executive expenses? Surely ICLEI should foot the bill for its own governance and not rely on the Melbourne Ratepayers? Was Cr Brindley appointed to the executive of ICELI on merit or because he could obtain funding from the City of Melbourne?

We did not expect Melbourne to meet the executive costs of the MAV or VLGA?

Cr Brindley's flight of compassion and care for the environment will generate over 2.88 tons of Co2 emissions. Well exceeding the average emissions generated for an individual over a whole year.

If the City Council seriously considered these overseas bonus trips for Councillors then where are the reports and break down of the costs.

Councillors the public have a right to know. Publish your report and share the benefits to the city that you claim exist. I am sure those who are struggling to pay off the interest rates on their mortgage would love to know why the rates in the city are so high and what benefit they derive from Councillors' luxury holidays abroad.

It's also of interest to note that most of the trips are to China. Analysis of the previous Council trips abroad shows a total of spent on trips overseas of which were to China and Japan

Question: Who collects the frequent flyer points and does the Council pay the Fringe Benefits Tax? Is it included in the expense statements?

We are thinking of keeping a trip tally and as soon as we collate the data we will let you know.

Added to our shame file "hey you left the sun lotion at home" awards go to:

Cr John So
Cr Garry Singer
Cr Brindley
Cr Snedden
Cr Shanahan
Cr Jetter

That leaves three to go. How long until they dip their hand into the cookie jar tempted by the dark side of local administration and seek a bit of ratepayer R & R (Rorts and Recreation)

... Game on!

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

No vote of confidence in Singer's performance

Melbourne City Council fails to express confidence in it's Deputy Lord Mayor amidst new allegations of wrong doing
Whilst the Lord Mayor, John So, seeks advice from Victorian State Government - Local Government Minister, Candy Broad, about Cr Singer's position, the Council puts on hold the fate of the off-key DLM Singer.

Link to original story in Melbourne's Herald-Sun

It's not a question of if Gary Singer has breached the Local Government Act as a result of his professional financial mismanagement, he has not, it is a question of good governance and confidence in his ability to remain as chairman of the City Council's finance committee.

It's up to the elected Council to judge Singer's performance, not Candy Broad. It is the elected Council that appointed him to it's finance, audit and investment committees and it is their decision if he is allowed to continue in that role given he has now been found guilty of professional financial mismanagement.

The question that needs to be ask is "what's in the best interest of the City as a whole?" There is no doubt that Singer's decline in his professional standing has brought the reputation of not only himself by also the City of Melbourne into question.

The Melbourne City Council can not sack Cr Singer from his position of Deputy Lord Mayor. He was directly elected along with the Lord Mayor Cr John So. This is one of the identified problems associated with the direct-election model. But the Melbourne City Council can and should decide his fate as chairman of the Council's Finance, Audit and Investment Committees.

Already two City Councillors, Cr Peter Clark and Cr Faser Brindely, have spoken out and called for Singer to stand down and hand over his position of chairman of the Council's Committees to his understudies.

Committee chairmanship come-up for review next month marking the first-year anniversary of the current elected Council.

New allegations of mismanagement in relation to superannuation payments, that have just emerged, bring in to further contention John So's choice of his deputy and Cr. Singer's suitability to remain in the Finance position.

Link to original story in Melbourne's Herald-Sun

If John So and Cr Singer will not act to protect the reputation and interest of the City Council then the onus is on the City Council. They have an obligation, right and duty to act.

The Council must now consider a vote of confidence in the Deputy Lord Mayor.

This is not a question that can be left unaddressed by taking no-action, as is the normal practice of the City Council, doing nothing will not resolve the situation or instill public confidence in the Melbourne City Council's administration and governance.

Cr Singer must demonstrate that he has the full confidence of the City Council or resign.

Anthony van der Craats

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Singer called to vacate the stage or face the chorus

There is ongoing concern related to the corporate governance of the City Council.

Recent reports in Melbourne's Herald-sun concerning the breach of public trust arising from the professional responsibilities of Cr Singer, Deputy Lord Mayor.

Link to article on the Herald-Sun Online

Cr Singer is an officer of the court and also holds a position of importance and responsibility for the administration and finance of the City Council.

Failure to inform the City Council and the lord Mayor of the allegations against him as soon as he became aware of them is a breach of the standards and principles of good governance and undermines overall public confidence in the City Council.

As chairman of the Council's Finance, Corporate Services and Governance Committee he has failed to address ongoing community concerns related the level of Council's overseas and interstate travel expenditure.

He has remained silent and complacent in not ensuring that the City Council's Travel Register is publicly available and published on the Council's internet site.

The Travel register is a public document and was previously published on the Councils Internet site but was removed when the new Council took office.

There is no justification for the City Council to withhold this information from public view unless there is a deliberate attempt to avoid disclosure and accountability.

Cr Singer has also failed to respond to question related to the benefits provided to City Councillors and its officers

The cost of the vehicles provided by the City Council to the Lord Mayor and Deputy Lord Mayor and expenditure in relation to in-house catering provided by the City of Melbourne are not disclosed on the published Councillor Expense Statements.

There are outstanding questions related to the liability of the City Council in respect to the payment of Fringe Benefits and GST tax on the benefits provided.

All of which Cr Singer is responsible for as Chairman of the Council's Finance Committee.

It is now incumbent on the Lord Mayor John So to request Cr Singer to resign as Chairman of the Council's Finance committee. Failing action by the Lord Mayor the it is the responsibility of elected Council to consider a vote of no confidence

Singer's record as Deputy Lord Mayor of Melbourne

Photo:Cr Singer enjoying the perks of office

November 29, 2004:
Suggests Melbourne could be a gay capital on the day after his election

December 2:
Selected as chairman of Council's Fnance and Corporate Goverance Committee

Calls for a pay rise of his $45,000 allowance the day he's officially sworn in

January 2005:
Alison Lyon, Council Goverance Legal Officer, withdraws publication of Melbourne City Council's "Travel Register" from it internet site - without consent or determination of the elected Council

Cr Singer accused of a coverup by failing to call to account the Council administration and ensure that this public document readily available for open scutiny

February 9:
Turns his nose up at Town Hall catering.

February 11:
Spends $19,000 to overhaul a Town Hall meeting room into a huge private office after he complained his open-plan office was not sound proof

August 5:
Revelations of his spending show he uses his $21,000-a-year ratepayer-funded Holden Statesmen for trips to Morwell, where he has a second residence and works at a law firm

March 20:
Cook fest with Jacques Reymond

April 8:
Embarks on a $13,300 public-funded trip to Milan where he attended a furniture show and rubbed shoulders with supermodel Megan Gale

Announces plans for a $16,000 two-week trip to Boston and New York. Trip costs $19,302 - $3707 above the approved estimate

November 1:
Ratepayer funded expense claims cost more than $22,000 in last quarter. Costs include $16,000 on overseas junkets and almost $2800 for interstate travel, $1000 for phone services, almost $2800 for fees for conferences and functions

November 11:
Fined $10,000 and ordered to pay $8000 in costs after pleading guilty to misconduct as a lawyer

November 22:
Singer faces the chorus following calls for his resigation arising financial mismanagement of his legal practice

Transparency and Accountability— Key To Effective Anti-Corruption

- Extract of a paper on Good Governance, Open and Transparency and Accountability -Australian Council for International Development, 2004

When communities operate with transparency, decisions are made and carried out in an open manner.

Transparent systems permit everyone to make informed choices, and give everyone access to information in an easily understood format.

Accountability is acting responsibly and being answerable for actions taken.

A lack of transparency and insufficient accountability creates the conditions in which corruption flourishes.

A lack of transparency in allocation of government resources, poor accountability from government and private companies to their community stakeholders, and practices that foster evasiveness are characteristics of poor governance.

This all contributes to increasing the risk of corrupt practices. Good governance is a means addressing the results of corruption, but also must deal with the underlying reasons that cause corruption.

Readily available access to public information is essential to good governance and a tool against corruption


The City of Melbourne MUST demonstrate a commitment to maintaining Open and Transparent public accountably.

It MUST ensure that information is readily available and accessible.

Publication of public documents and accounts are essential weapon to fighting corruption.

What has the City of Melbourne administration got to hide?

Why has the "Travel Register" a public document required under law, previously published its internet site, been withdrawn and hidden away from public scrutiny.





FoI: City of Melbourne In-house Catering Expenses

November 22, 2005

To the Freedom of Information Officer
City of Melbourne
Swanston Street

Dear Sir/Madam

Pursuant to the Victorian Freedom of Information Act I wish to request the following information.

1. A detailed monthly summary report of all in-house catering expenses provided to staff and Councillors covering the period from December 1, 2004 to the current date.

This report where possible should provide a breakdown of expenses occurred by department for each calendar month and include the cost associated with the provision of alcohol and refreshments.

If available a breakdown of costs for each individual councillor

I note that in-house catering expenses are not included or listed in the published Councillor expense statements.

As the information requested is of public interest, I request that the Council waiver the application fee required.

Should you require further information I can be contacted via return email

Yours faithfully

Anthony van der Craats

Web site:

FoI: City of Melbourne Travel Register

November 22, 2005

To the Freedom of Information Officer
City of Melbourne
Swanston Street

Dear Sir/Madam

Pursuant to the Victorian Freedom of Information Act I wish to request the following information.

1. Copy in electronic format of the City of Melbourne's Travel Register covering the period from December 1, 2004 to the current date.

The Council Travel Register was previously available and published by the City of Melbourne on it's internet site.

The previous Council had requested the Travel Register be published on the Council's Internet site as part of its ongoing commitment to open and transparent Governance. It was the intention that the information published would cover the term of the then current council and that the information would be continued to be updated and published on an ongoing basis into the future including future Councils.

The Council administration, in what is considered a cynical move to avoid accountability, has since removed this information for publication without first seeking the authority, consent of resolution of the incumbent elected Council.

The Travel Register is a public document required to be maintained by the Council under the provisions of the Victorian Local Government Act.

The Victorian Parliament believes that this information is important and must be readily available to the public.

A number of request made to the Council seeking the reinstatement and publication of the updated Travel Register on the Council's Internet site has not been addressed with the Council and it's administration failing to respond to numerous correspondence.

The cost of publishing this information is minimal and requires minimal to no additional resources.

The failure of the City of Melbourne Council to address this issue and to publish this information as requested has brought the Council into disrepute in that it is seen as a blatant attempt to avoid disclosure and public accountability contrary to the principles of open and transparent government.

The Council has spent more money and resources in avoidance then the cost of compliance.

In the absence of the Council responding to previous requests I now seek access to this information under the provisions of FoI legislation.

I request that this information be made available with out delay

Further as this information is in the public's interest I request that the Council wavier the FoI application fee required.

Should you require further information I can be contacted via return email

Yours faithfully

Anthony van der Craats

Web site:

cc Media

Monday, November 21, 2005

All public documents should be accessible via the internet

Melbourne City Council and the State Government called on to ensure the right of readily available access to public documents via the internet as part of their commitment to honest, open and transparent government.

The Victorian Local Government Regulations, made pursuant to the Victorian Local Government Act, requires a Municipal Council to make available certain information to the public.

The Victorian Parliament in assenting to these regulations recognised the importance of the public's right to know and that certain information must be maintained by a Municipal Council and open to public inspection.

These regulations were first drafted when the Internet was in its infancy and not widely deployed. The Internet today has become an important, cost effective and efficient means of communication.

The Local Government Act and the Local Government Regulations have not been updated to take into consideration new internet technology and as such there is no compulsion or requirement for a Municipal Council to publish and make available public documents and information on the Municipal Council's Internet site.

At the same time there is nothing other then good will and intent preventing a Municipal Council from publishing this information on the Internet making it readily available and accessible by the public.

The only reason that this information is not published on the Internet site is the Council administration's desire to limit the availability and access to information and by doing so avoid accountability.

The City of Melbourne reluctent attitude and refusal of ongoing requests that public information , required under the terms of the Local Government Act to be readily available and accessible to the public, be published on it's internet site demonstrates the Council's inability and unwillingness to self-govern or to act in the public's interest.

Under the management of David Pitchard, CEO, and Alison Lyon's, Legal Governance Officer, the City Council administration have gone to extra-ordinary efforts to prevent readily available public access to this information.

Publication of the Council's Travel register is required to be maintained under clause 21(c) of the Victorian Government Regulations and following numerous request and submission by the public to the elected Council this information was published and made available via the Council's Internet site in 2004.

The information published provided details of Councillor and Staff Overseas and interstate Travel.

The Council administration were so opposed to this information being readily available to the public that they withdraw it's publication on the internet previously soon after the election of the new Council in 2005 without the authority or consent of the elected Councillors.

The elected Council under the leadership of the Lord Mayor, John So, and his Deputy Lord Mayor, Garry Singer, continue to avoid the responsibility and obligations to protect the public's right of access to information by failing to hold the Council administration to account and request that the publication of this information be maintained and accessible via the Council's Internet site.

If the City Council cannot self-govern or act in then public's interest then it is incumbent on the State Parliament to review the regulations to ensure that the right of access to this information is readily available to the public by making it mandatory for all public documents to be published on the Council's Internet site.

- Extract of Part 8 of the Local Government Act -

Victorian Local Government Regulations 2001


21. Documents to be made available for public inspection
A Council must make available for public inspection documents containing the following prescribed matters—
(a) details of current allowances fixed for the Mayor, Lord Mayor (if any) and Councillorsunder section 74 or 74A of the Act;
(b) details of senior officers' total salarypackages for the current financial year andthe previous year including the gross salary,the amount of the Council or employercontribution to superannuation, the value ofany motor vehicle provided by the Counciland the total value of any other benefits andallowances provided by the Council;
(c) details of overseas or interstate travel (withthe exception of interstate travel by land forless than 3 days) undertaken in an officialcapacity by Councillors or any member ofCouncil staff in the previous12 months, including the names of theCouncillors or members of Council staff andthe date, destination, purpose and total costof the overseas or interstate travel;
(d) names of Council officers who were requiredto submit a return of interest during thefinancial year and the dates the returns weresubmitted;
(e) names of Councillors who submitted returnsof interest during the financial year and thedates the returns were submitted;
(f) agendas for and minutes of ordinary andspecial meetings held in the previous12 months kept under section 93 of the Actexcept if the minutes relate to parts ofmeetings which have been closed tomembers of the public under section 89 ofthe Act;
(g) a list of all special committees established byCouncil and the purpose for which eachcommittee was established;
(h) a list of all special committees established bythe Council which were abolished or ceasedto function during the financial year;
(i) minutes of meetings of special committeesestablished under section 86 of the Act andheld in the previous 12 months except if theminutes relate to parts of meetings whichhave been closed to members of the publicunder section 89 of the Act;
(j) applications for enrolment on the voters' rollunder sections 12 and 13 of the Act for theimmediate past roll and the next roll beingprepared;
(k) a register of delegations kept under sections87, 88 and 98 of the Act;
(l) submissions received in accordance withsection 223 of the Act during the previous12 months;
(m) agreements to establish regional librariesunder section 196 of the Act;
(n) details of all property, finance and operatingleases involving land, buildings, plant,computer equipment or vehicles entered intoby the Council as lessor or lessee, includingthe name of the other party to the lease andthe terms and the value of the lease;
(o) a register of authorised officers appointedunder section 224 of the Act;
(p) a list of donations and grants made by theCouncil during the financial year, includingthe names of persons or bodies which havereceived a donation or grant and the amountof each donation or grant;
(q) a list of the names of the organisations ofwhich the Council was a member during thefinancial year and details of all membershipfees and other amounts and servicesprovided during that year to eachorganisation by the Council;
(r) a list of contracts valued at $100 000 or morewhich the Council entered into during thefinancial year without first engaging in acompetitive process and which are notcontracts referred to in section 186(5) of theAct.

Local Government decline in standards of governance

There has been a significant decline in the quality of Local Government and accountability in Victoria (The Age November 20) as rightly identified by the Victorian Local Governance Association.

Link to original story The Age Online

Local Government continues to demonstrate lack of responsibility, accountability or interest in self governance. The City of Melbourne Council for example no longer supports a committee responsible for the administration and corporate governance of the Council, having removed corporate governance from the terms of reference of its finance administration committee.

Having sent a number of submissions to the City Council in relation to governance issues and the need to publish the Council's "Travel Register" outlining the full extent of Councillors and staff overseas and interstate travel the council has failed to consider the issue.

The Travel Register is a public document required under the Victorian Local Government Act and should be readily accessible to the public and along with other public documents published on the Council's internet site.

The City of Melbourne previously published this information on its internet site but it has since been removed, in what is a shonky and blatant attempt by the Council administration of avoiding accountability and responsibility and the need to maintain open and transparent government.

The Council Staff who are significant beneficiaries of Council ratepayer funded lurks and perks of office have also remained within the "cone of silence". You scratch my back and I will turn and look away.

The internet is a valuable and cost effective tool in fighting corruption. Public access to information in respect to governments is essential to the principles of maintaining honest, open and transparent government.

The City of Melbourne in its ongoing refusal to publish and make available public documents brings local government into disrepute.

Instead of shunning this technology Local Government should embrace it as a revolution of public accountability with minimal costs. If efficient, cheap and effective.

That is unless they have something to hide. (last year errors amounting to a short fall of thousands of dollars in Councillors Travel expenses were discovered as a result of information published on the internet. Errors that the Council administration sought to cover up and avoid disclosure.

The City Council is yet to address this issue. One year has passed and the current Council still continues to avoid the question forgoing their public duties and responsibility.

The systems are in place, the technology available but the Council lacks the will and integrity to act.

The Victorian Local Governance Association (VLGA) must also share part of this responsibility for the decline in standards and community expectations.

The VLGA is not an independent professional organisation, it is beholden to its constituent membership units.

The VLGA must also review and demonstrate its ability to apply principles of good governance and social justice to its own administration before it can preach and criticise its membership.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Singer seeks council funds to sponsor his lack of performance

There is ongoing concern about corporate governance in the City of Melbourne and Councillor expenses.

The following Article by Jen Kelly was published in the Herald Sun

Link to original stopy Herald-Sun Online

GARY Singer is under renewed fire after using his part-time job as Deputy Lord Mayor to score free tickets to events at ratepayers' expense.

Cr Singer attended three events, including a costly arts function in Sydney with his partner, Geoffrey Smith, curator of Australian art at the National Gallery of Victoria, after asking staff to get him a ticket.

The Herald Sun asked Melbourne City Council to provide a list of event tickets the Morwell lawyer had asked council staff to procure for him.

Documents supplied under Freedom of Information laws reveal ratepayers footed the bill for Cr Singer to receive:

ONE $250 ticket for him to the Melbourne Art Fair Awards for the Visual Arts dinner in September at the Art Gallery of NSW.

ONE $75 ticket for him to a May jazz event at the Australian Centre for Contemporary Art. He is a member of the ACCA Foundation.

Cr Singer also asked council officers to get two free tickets to the Royal Melbourne Show for him and his partner.

Cr Singer said he paid for his own flight to Sydney to attend the awards night with his partner.

He said it was important to attend the events as council's deputy chair of the community and culture committee.
"These are fundraiser events to make sure these not-for-profit organisations continue to exist in the city," Cr Singer said.

He is also criticised for splitting his time between the city and Gippsland.
Cr Singer works as consultant, lawyer and manager at Simon Parsons and Co, a law firm in Morwell.

Town Hall insiders say he spends only two to three days a week in the city office on council work.

In Morwell yesterday, Cr Singer said he was in the city on council business four or five days a week. He is paid $45,000 a year as Deputy Lord Mayor.
Council insiders claim Cr Singer lacks an agenda and shows little interest in fixing problems.

He is also co-director of EQ Cafe/Bar in Southbank, and a solicitor.

The Herald Sun exclusively revealed on Saturday Cr Singer was fined $10,000 last week for financial misconduct after withholding cheques to his own benefit as a law firm partner at Morwell.

He said yesterday that what happened was regrettable, but did not interfere with his council role.

Open and Transparent Governance via the Internet

The State Government's $50,000 cost in addressing FOI requests by the Liberal Opposition spokesperson (The Age November 15) pales into insignificance when compared to the hundreds of thousands of dollars spent by the Melbourne City Council seeking to avoid disclosure and accountability related to Council's expenses and details of election results.

The City Council's actions and extent avoidance are an ongoing abuse of process.

With the City Council demonstrating its inability to self-govern, it is now incumbent on the State Government in fulfilment of its commitment to open and transparent government that it embrace new technology and legislate ensuring that access to public information is readily available and published on the Internet and not hidden from public view.

The Local Givernment Act should be amended to require the publication of public documents on the Internet.

Without State Government intervention the City of Melbourne will not come clean

Anthony van der Craats

Monday, November 07, 2005

Melbourne City Council continues to avoid accountability and open and transparent governance

Team members, supporters, State Government Local Government Policy Committee, Members of Parliament, Councillors and Media (As addressed)Subject: Melbourne City Council continues to avoid accountability and open and transparent governance

Our campaign to hold the Melbourne City Council to account continues following the failure of the Council to demonstrate it's capability or willingness to be held accountable .

The Melbourne City Council and it's administration, true to form, are continuing to avoid accountability and open and transparent government.

As many of you are aware we campaigned successfully for the Council to publish information related to staff and Councillors Overseas and interstate travel.

The Council in its lack of wisdom having been caught out fixing the books (over $8,000 was missing and not disclosed in the Council's published Councillor Expense accounts).

The Local Government Act requires that the Council maintains "Travel Register" a public record of all interstate and overseas travel. This is a public document.

Review of this information which was previously available on the Council's internet site enabled us to identify the errors in the Council's accounts bringing into question the integrity of the Council published expense statements.

The Council's Travel Register is a public Document. Why is the Council going to extra-ordinary steps to avoid its publication on the Internet?

Having been caught out the Council administration have now withdrawn this information from the internet and the publics eye in an attempt to make it harder for the public to gain access. Clearly they had something to hide.
The Council administration under the legal advise of Alison Lyon (The same officer that` spent thousands of ratepayers money trying to avoid the publication and disclosure of the City Council Elections) continues to advocate that the Council should only do the minimum required whilst the Council continues to hide behind creative accounting techniques to avoid disclosure of what should be honest public information.

The Internet is a valuable source of information and the City Council should embrace this technology to ensure that information is readily available as part of its declining commitment to maintaining an open and transparent government.

Sadly the current elected Council has remained silent and have not brought the Council administration to account by insisting that this information and other public documents are accessible via the internet. Maybe this is because they are the ones that are more often then not held accountable by the publication of this information.

There are significant financial and logistical benefits to be made by embracing internet technology. The Council previously published this information so the systems are in place. The Council is required by legislation to ensure that this information is maintained and available for public inspection. However the administration are prepared to spend the thousands of dollars in additional cost required to ensure that this information is only made available on application and onsite inspection. This consumes a significant amount of Council resources far in excess to the cost of publishing and making the information available on the Council's internet site.

Given that the Council is not prepared to honour its previous commitment and demonstrate that it is capable of self governance it is now up to the Government to take control and to legislate access and publication of this information.

The current Local Government Act is silent when it comes to the internet. Clearly internet technology has an advantage in providing low cost publication and information ensuring that Victoria maintains an open and transparent Local Government sector. The Act MUST be reviewed to take into account this new technology and bring Local Government into the 21st Century. All documents, registers and financial accounts should be readily available for inspection and published on the Internet.

These documents are considered important enough to ensure that they are accessible for public review then they should also be readily available via the internet.

The City Council is incapable or unwilling to act in the public interest. State Government must act to require the Council to utilise this new technology as part of its Good Governance requirements

In 2006 we will be campaigning once again to hold the Melbourne City Council to account and as such advocating for legislative reform.

Further information can be obtained via return email.

Anthony van der Craats