Tuesday, December 27, 2005

It's time to ditch our Right Honourable Lord Mayor

With the new year we should adopt a new flag and strip the Lord Mayor's title

With the coming of the New Year we begin to reflect on our past and look towards the future and the things that we should change.

There are many things on our list, most are talked about but never happen for one reason or another we never get around to doing it.

Issues such as an Australian republic and a new flag that better represents Australia as a developing nation. Victoria should also adopt a new State flag. (The issue of a republic - hopefully a model without a direct elected head of state - will be soon back on the agenda with John Howard's expected retirement)

We need to move on and shrug off our colonial past.

One such issue that we should consider is the abolition of the title "Lord Mayor". A title that puts the Mayor of Melbourne above all other Victorian cities mayors. A title that enables the incumbent to call himself "The Right Honourable Lord Mayor" as he is introduced or referred to in any formal setting.

It's time we changed, time we moved on from our colonial imperial past.

Already we have seen the seeds of change.

Upper House member John Lenders, Leader of the Government in the Victorian Legislative Council and Minister for Major Projects has taken the first step and rejected the use of title "The Honourable" which he is able to claim.

John Lenders is one of a few politicians who has shown integrity and commitment to his beliefs.

Hopefully we will see more and more Government Ministers and members of the Legislative Council abandon this out-dated tradition.

Melbourne no longer holds the same significance and importance as it did when Victoria first started out as a British colony. The City boundaries have changed been reduced, Hoddle's grid has been breach, other cities and municipalities in Victoria have grown in size and now have more people then our capital City.

The head of our City Government no longer needs to retain the title the "Right Honourable Lord Mayor". It a title that is in deceitful and offensive. You do not need a Title to be a leader amongst your peers. The American City of New York is one such example where the title "Mayor" suffices and is well regarded.

The time has come for the City Council to move forward and take the lead by calling on the State Government to legislate the title out of existence and into the past by relegating it to the pages of our history books.

Anthony van der Craats

Monday, December 26, 2005

Freedom of (from) Information report 2004-2005

City Council continues to misuse and abuse system

The Victorian Attorney General, Rob Hulls, this week released the 2004-2005 financial year Freedom of Information report (Link to FoI report - pdf file)

The Age ran an interesting article "FoI requests hit record high" by Farrah Tomazin (December 26, 2005) indicating that the number of applications were up as is the number of applications that were refused.

You should careful not to read too much into the report - When we did some research on previous years data we found some anomalies with the City of Melbourne statistics. It appears that they forgot to include some data understating the number of successful FoI application appeals.

FoI administration is not well managed down at Clown Hall and hopefully with the departure of Alison Lyons, Legal and Governance Manager, things will pick up.

We have written to the Melbourne City Council requesting an explanation and assurance that the information provided to the Minister is in fact correct and that the City Council has not deliberately or inadvertently mislead the Attorney general who in turn may have mislead the Parliament.

It is not clear if the Municipal Association of Victoria (MAV) is subject to FoI legislation, (if not it should be) if it is then we can expect that things will get a lot worst for the MAV in the not too distant future.

Some Interesting quotes from Hulls report.

The Bracks Government came to office determined to return openness and accountability to public life. Victorians had demanded nothing less and expected, quite rightly, that their democratic institutions would be returned to them - that they would, once again, feel able to exercise their right to access government information.
I noted in last year’s FOI Annual Report that the Victorian Ombudsman had commenced an own motion examination of the administration of FOI in Victoria. FOI processes and legislation – a relatively new and complex area of government - will always be a work in progress and I therefore look forward to the Ombudsman’s recommendations as to how we can continue to make improvements to this essential democratic mechanism.
The number of VCAT appeals lodged decreased by 11% in 2004/2005 when compared to the figure for the previous year. - Could it be that information was not correctly reported as has previously been identified with the City of Melbourne's statistical data?

The Attorney-General’s February 2000 FOI Guidelines to assist in the administration of the FOI Act require agencies to look to providing information outside the FOI process.

The existence of the FOI Act should not mean that the formal process provided under it is the only means of obtaining access to documents or information of an agency.

City of Melbourne published statistics for 2005 show that 78% of FoI applications were granted in full, 24% in part, 2% denied and 4% withdrawn (Note: There is a +/- 2% error in the published data provided by the City of Melbourne reason unknown - Creative accounting or poor bookkeeping is our guess)

Which begs answers to the questions

  • Why was this information not provided on request?
  • Why was an FOI application required in order to obtain the information?
  • How many more request for information were denied and did not proceed to a formal FoI application?

Is this not an ongoing abuse of process ?

Is the system designed to prevent access to information - and as a result avoid accountablity- by making access to information as dificult as possible?

Saturday, December 24, 2005

EcoFest - The true impact of International Environmental Confests

EcoFests - International Environment Conferences

Confest tourism is big business. Its huge worth trillions of dollars and growing at an alarming rate.

Why pay for your next international holiday when you can put in on the corportate tab - even better if the Government pays.

It seams that every one want to an all expenses paid for international business trip and what better way to have a holiday abroad then to attend a "work related" conference - and its not just the proffessional elite.

Conferences are happening all over the world, you name it and there is a conference you can attend. Just list your prefered destinations and jump on the internet and I am sure you will find one to suit you requirements.

Event organisers are carving out a pretty penny for themselves. Hotels, resteraunts, catering companies, advertising executives, corporate managers, travel agents, taxis and hire cars all beneficiarys of the economic activitiy generated. It seams every one is a winner from this economic self generating cash cow - that is except the environment.

I first got to thinking about it when I started to camoiagn for open dislosure of of the City of Melbourne's staff and cocunillors intertstae and overseas travel. The Council administration would go to extrordinary efforts to avoid disclosure and public scrutiny of the extent of travel undertaken by staff and Councillors. The Coucnil staff and Councillors spent over one million dollars in direct travel related activities.

Whats more that information and benefits gained in jet setting off around the world could have easily been achieved if they stay at home. Most of the time the conference goers don't even attend the schedualed conference events.

I was staying in Rome, as part of a stop over from a trip around the world and during my stay there I met a lot of foriegners on the tourist trail. When we got talking I found out that most of the tourists I had met were on a "government sponsored business trip attanding a Food and Agricultural Organsiation (FAO) meeting. Now for those that do not know FAO is connected with the United Nations and its head quarters are based in Rome.

Every one of these Confest tourists as I call them had taken time out from the organsied conference to look around Rome. Infact it is the normal modus operande for FAO delegates to register for a conference of some kind and spend most of the time sightseeing. At the end of the event everyone goes home full of praise and gratitude for FAO and the conference the just attended.

I souldn't single out FOA as such because I am sure they fullfill a very important job and contribute significantly to the worlds Argicultual development. But this sort of thing is going on all over the world with every concievable type of organisation from the Vatican to the weidest of international environment organisations that noboby has heard about.

Its big business - Millions opon Millions of dollars are spent every day. Whats more there are generouse tax deductions to help off-set the cost.

A part from generating economic activity what are the true cost benefits derived from international travel?

Who and how often should employees and government official attend overseas confest?

What are the pitfalls?

The City of Melbourne is a good example case of the sort of wasted resources and ideolgical bankrupt hippocrites.

Avoid air travel

Like cars, aeroplanes are major contributors to the greenhouse effect, and are one of the fastest growing source of greenhouse pollution. In particular, they emit high levels of carbon dioxide (CO2), nitrogen oxides (NOx) and water vapour. NOx emissions from aircraft are responsible for ozone depletion in the stratosphere and also contribute to smog build-up in our cities.

So where possible, you should rethink your air travel needs. If a conference call is as good as a face-to-face meeting, take the phone call option. For your next vacation discover the secrets of your own state rather than taking an air-based holiday.

Avoiding one return Sydney to Melbourne air trip saves 256 kg of CO2. That's about three times more greenhouse gases than a train or a bus.

If you avoid a return flight from Melbourne to London you could save 2.49 tonnes of greenhouse emissions, the equivalent of 10 trees.

Friday, December 23, 2005

Brindley - Lane foretells a foreboding message

Fraser Brindley sells out Green's policy behind closed doors

The City of Melbourne would do well to read Terry Lane's opinion piece published in the Age on December 18, 2005 .

"Democracy, as we know, is government of the people, by the people and for the people. It's a noble concept, but how are the people to govern ourselves if we have no idea what's going on?"

(Terry Lane is one of the Age's most enlightened social commentators - remember his time at the ABC)

Whilst Lane's comments are directed at the State Government they could have equally been aimed at the Melbourne City Council and many other Governments in Victoria - Green Councillor Fraser Brindley please take note.

Terry Lane's article is about obtaining information from Governments about government. All too often we see Governments try to dodge the bullets and fire storms by trying to shut out the public from knowing the facts - Governments that are not prepared to stand by the facts and record of their administration. The former Kennett Liberal Government made an art form of it and every other government has continued on with his approach.

Lane successfully quotes the former NSW Auditor-General, Tony Harris, who says: "It appears to me that governments just don't want to be accountable, and are using private sector participation and so are reducing the amount of information that's available. It is really outrageous."

To back up this statement Lane then goes on to quote Wayne Cameron, Victorian Auditor-General "An important element of the responsibility of the executive government is to make decisions affecting the direction and management of the state's financial resources and its operations. The government of the day, in return, has an obligation to account to the parliament and, in turn, to the community for its use of public funds and resources."

Terry Lanes sums up by proposing the question "What is it about politicians that they are such hypocrites and so averse to the very foundation of democracy that depends on the electorate knowing what is being done in their name? How can the cost of a major infrastructure project be kept secret? Are they ashamed of something?"

The same principle applies to obtaining information about Melbourne City Council's expenditure be it the cost of a major project development, costs associated with in-house catering, Councillors' overseas junkets or the cost of the Lord Mayor's Limo.

The City of Melbourne has forgotten the significance of public ownership and the right of public access to information.

Even worst is the fact that some Councillors, including Green Cr Fraser Brindley, believe it is OK to hold secret sessions behind closed doors in an attempt to prevent public scrutiny and the release of information related to the costs of the City of Melbourne's in-bound missions (the cost of inviting guest to visit Melbourne who are wined and dined at Councils expense).

Now were not saying that there is anything wrong with extending the odd invitation or two to someone to visit our city, and in the process show them a good time, but why does the City Council have to go out of their way to withhold details and information to the public on the extent of Council expenditure?

The City administration is mistaken in the belief that it is their professional responsibility to avoid disclosure.

Why is it that information on Council's costs and expenditure is only made available to the public via Freedom of Information legislation - this is clearly an abuse of process and responsibility.

Councillor Brindley should think twice before he sells out the many supporters who voted him into office.

Former Green Councillor David Risstrom demonstrated on many occasions his commitment to the public's right of access to information and proper process.

Sadly it was a question of timing David Risstrom stood down from the City of Melbourne to unsuccessful seek election as representative of Victoria in the Australian Senate and in the process he handed the baton over to Green Councillor Fraser Brindley.

We would like to remind Cr Brindley of his commitment to the electorate

Governance - Democracy, Accountability & Participation

"The Greens support the integrity of local government as an independent level of government enabling full and active participation of the community in governance of issues at the local level. Such governance should embrace open and consultative decision - making, and provide for clear reporting of Council’s activities." - November 2004

Yes we all want a cleaner and healthier environment but there is more to good governance then half-baked policies on the environment. We also want honest, open and transparent government. We want to know the full extent and costs associated with the administration and governance of our city. We do not want information with-held and decisions made behind closed doors.

With the departure of Councillors Chamberlain and Kitchin the Melbourne City Council is no longer being held to account and as a result the public are worst off. Councillors Clarke, Snedden and Shanahan are fighting an up-hill battle only to be let down by Cr Brindley.

The Greens would do better to find someone that knows what they are doing, what their responsibilities are and who is prepared to protect the public's right of access to information.

David all is forgiven please come back.

So's team of spin doctors to perform emergency surgery costing $4 Million

Council needs a dietician not spin doctors

Extra-ordinary revelations in the Herald-sun.

The Melbourne City Council is about to embark on a PR spending spree costing ratepayers $4 Million dollars to try and improve its image.

Media consultant Hayden Cock has been appointed on a $230,000 annual salary to head up a Million Dollar image make-over media unit of 25 plus staff.

If the City Council is this much flushed with cash and wants to improve its image then why did it up the cost of on-street parking by 48%? Maybe the Lord Mayor's $100,000.00 Limo driver need a pay rise or Gary Singer needs more money to spend on lurks and perks.

Was it a decision made at a secret clandestine meeting of the Council - Councillors' Information Exchange Sessions?

There was no mention of this to our knowledge in the Council papers and certainly not in the Council's 2005/2006 budget. Councillors were not part of the selection process. Normally the Chairman of the Finance committee would be on the selection panel for a senior director's position. In this case the selection was left solely to the CEO, David Pitchford. It is unclear at this stage if the Lord Mayor's press secretary will come under the umbrella of the new mega-media department or will work independently.

The decision was announced by the Lord Mayor, John So, the day before Christmas eve (seven days after the appointment was made) so as to avoid a backlash from the Melbourne business community and ratepayers who will be footing the bill. This is not just a case of redeployment it is a whole new job at the top. One CEO, seven Directors, and a host of top-end to middle line managers.

If the Council has this sort of cash to flash around then it can afford to give ratepayers a rate cut.

It's not spin-doctors the Council needs, it is a dietician.

Someone who can go though the council trimming the fat and reducing the cost burden on the City. In dietary-health terms the Council is obese. Savings not expenses is what is required.

$4m for council image
Ellen Whinnett 23dec05

MELBOURNE City Council is spending more than $4 million on a 25-member team of spin-doctors to improve its image.

The council has formed a new corporate affairs division, pooling its media and communications branches to improve its image with ratepayers.

And a media relations specialist, Hayden Cock, has been appointed to the newly created position of corporate affairs director at a cost of more than $200,000.

Council chief executive officer David Pitchford yesterday confirmed Mr Cock had been employed on December 15 in the corporate affairs role but declined to say what he would be paid.

It is believed he is earning well over $200,000 -- almost double the $120,000 package paid to Lord Mayor John So.

There will be no additional cost to the ratepayers, with Mr Pitchford saying the new corporate affairs divisions would be resourced using the existing budgets. The council has 1101 employees and an annual operating budget of $236 million.

"The establishment of the corporate affairs division will enable the City of Melbourne to lift its performance in line with community expectations in this age of rapidly changing technology and communication," he said. "The division will have a strong external focus."

"It will redefine the way we approach stakeholder relations, develop vastly better ways of communication with customers and develop new approaches to relationships with the media."

The council will spend $1.8 million on salaries for its team of corporate and media relations staff, and a further $2.3 million in operating costs.

The move comes after the council faced criticism on several fronts, particularly over Deputy Lord Mayor Gary Singer, who was fined $10,000 for failing to cash cheques while he was a partner in a law firm.

There was further controversy yesterday when it was discovered Cr Singer's partner, Geoffrey Smith, had been appointed to a committee to advise the council on art.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Record breaking day - Traffic Tuesday

Record breaking day. Traffic Tuesday - There should be a Congestion Tax :-)

Today has been our biggest traffic day since we started the Melbourne City Council - Holding them to account web blog. We achieved in the last two days more hits then all other days combined. This is in-part to the recent campaign or awareness we have been involved in.

Letters have been sent to all Members of State Parliament, Members of the ALP policy committees, Local Councils both in Victoria and beyond, environment and civil rights groups, other bloggers and online communities.

It has been helped to a large extent by reports in the media (especially the Herald-Sun) that highlight the rorts and corrupt goings-on both within the City of Melbourne and other municipalities. - The Age has been asleep occupied with layoffs, strikes and a declining reader base.

All in all we are impressed at the level of interest.

We believe there is genuine concern in the community about proper process and the belief that Councillors and Council staff are held accountable for their actions.

To quote Steve Bracks, Victorian Premier, and Candy Broad, Minister for Local Government talking about Council travel rorts:

"I don't think the public which they serve will be supportive of those arrangements" - Steve Bracks

"The Victorian Government expects all elected representatives to act with integrity" - Candy Broad

"Ultimately the test of that is going to be within councils, within their municipalities, to see whether they are supported." - Steve Bracks

Anthony van der Craats
Blog Editor

City Council closed sessions under review

There is growing concern that the Melbourne City Council have forgotten their responsibility and obligation to maintain Open and Transparent Governance of the City.

The City Council is not a private club for Councillors to do with what they want.

We have requested information related to the cost of Council's in-house-catering and in-bound missions (Interstate and overseas visitors who are guest of the city), the cost of the Lord Mayors limo and the Deputy Lord Mayor's car including cost of maintenance and petrol.

Information for some time has not been forthcoming.

This information is not confidential and there is no reason why this information is not readily available or presented to the Council on a regular basis in the Council's management reports.

There is a growing and worrying trend amongst Councillors and the Council staff that the public is being lock-out and denied right of access to information. Information that should be readily available is now only obtainable via application under the Freedom of Information Legislation.

This is contrary to the stated intentions and the directions of the State Attorney General, Rob Hulls, who is responsible for the administration of the FoI Act.

The recent decision of the City Council, as proposed and supported by Green Councillor Fraser Brindley "Shame Fraser Shame", to refer documents related to the financial cost and management of the Council to be considered in secret sessions "behind closed doors" is in breach of the Local Government Act Section 89 (extract of the Local Government Act below)

The questions we now ask are:

  • What is the status of the "Council's Information Exchange Sessions?"
  • Why are they secret closed meetings and not open to the public?
  • Under what authority and provisions of the Local Government Act are these clandestine sessions held?
  • Why is it that the reports presented to these meetings are not available to the public?

It is one thing to hold a pre-council get together to discuss items on the agenda informally but it's another issue when information and reports are presented to the Council in closed session gatherings and not released to the public.

It is the responsibility and professional duty of David Pitchford, CEO, and Linda Weatherston, Director Corporate Performance, to protect the rights of the public by ensuring that the Council conforms with the law at all times.

Our City Councillors must think twice before they act to lock out the public.

Those Councillors that continue to operate in this fashion must and will be held to account.

If they are in breach of the Local Government Act then it is up to the State Government and the Victorian State Parliament to step in and restore confidence in the governance and administration of the Council by ensuring that Council complies with the provision of the provision of the Local Government Act and protect the right for public access to information.

89. Meetings to be open to the public

(1) Unless sub-section (2) applies, any meeting of a
or a special committee must be open to
members of the public.

(2) A Council or special committee may resolve that
the meeting be closed to members of the public if
the meeting is discussing any of the following—

(a) personnel matters;
(b) the personal hardship of any resident or
(c) industrial matters;
(d) contractual matters;
(e) proposed developments;
(f) legal advice;
(g) matters affecting the security of Council
(h) any other matter which the Council or
special committee considers would prejudice
the Council or any person;
(i) a resolution to close the meeting to members
of the public.

(3) If a Council or special committee resolves to close
a meeting to members of the public the reason
must be recorded in the minutes of the meeting.

(4) The Council must provide reasonable notice to the
public of meetings of the Council.

(5) The Chairperson of a special committee must
provide reasonable notice to the public of
meetings of the special committee.

Government criticises but fails to act

The same criticism applies to the City of Melbourne and the cost of the Lord Mayor and Deputy Lord Mayor's council funded joy rides along with the extravagant number of staff and councillors' overseas trips. Its time the Government governed.

Don't expect the MAV or VLGA to address this issue after all it is their members that are at work here. They represent councillors' interests first and foremost not ratepayers.

Bracks warns of car perk anger
(mccblog: Whilst Candy fires a broadside shot across the bow)

Tanya Giles and Peter Mickelburough - Herald-sun 20 dec 05

PREMIER Steve Bracks yesterday warned Casey councillors they would face a voter backlash if they awarded themselves ratepayer-funded cars.

"I don't think the public which they serve will be supportive of those arrangements," he said.

"Ultimately the test of that is going to be within councils, within their municipalities, to see whether they are supported."

Mr Bracks recommended the council, in Melbourne's southeast, get the opinions of ratepayers before they went ahead with the move.

Local Government Minister Candy Broad also questioned the idea.

"The Victorian Government expects all elected representatives to act with integrity," she said.

The proposal could cost $440,000 and has outraged resident groups and some councillors.

Councillors -- many of whom last year tried to give themselves a $70,000 pay rise -- are expected to vote on the car plan today.

A draft proposal sent to councillors by Deputy Mayor Rob Wilson recommends all 10 "councillors be offered to be provided with a council vehicle by July 1, 2006, in lieu of travel payment per kilometre".

Casey Mayor Kevin Bradford, who traded in his $85,000 Holden Statesman for a $35,000 Commodore, said he would oppose the move.

Monday, December 19, 2005

Councillor allowances on the up - Christmas greed

Local Councillors who have just been elected are now seeking to up their pay by a factor of 600% or more

Link to Herald-Sun story

There are serious questions that need immediate answers.

SHOULD not any increase in councillor allowances have been set before the election as opposed to after the fact?

In the City of Casey's proposal its a bit like someone applying for a job with the salary of a paper boy and having secured the appointment then grants themself a salary equal to the editor in chief.

How many more people with professional skills would have nominated for election if the salary was known to be significantly higher then currently set?

Something is wrong and it needs fixing NOW.

Then there is the back door approach. More lurks and perks, benefits - free cars, petrol, central car-parking, unlimited cab charge vouchers, overseas holidays, frequent flyer bonus points, computers, secretarial support, free mobile telephone, free fax, free internet, free child-care, free theatre tickets, free football matches, free meals (lunches) and free alcohol. It is never ending and there must be some limits and controls. Some form of governance.

Are all these benefits subject to the Fringe-Benefits Tax? If yes is the Council expected to pick up the tab on the tax also? Are they paying the Fringe-Benefits tax?

Victorian Local Government Act 1989

Councillors allowances are governed by the Victorian Local Government Act 1989 section 74 (A, B, and C) and section 75 - (Extract below)

Section 74 (1) says the Council MUST within 7 months of the general election determine the level of allowance to be paid to councillors for the next four years.

Section 74 (3) refers to any variance of the above.

Section 74B provides the Government with the option of limiting the amount of allowances paid to Councillors by order of the Governor in Council

Section 74C provides for the appointment of an allowance review panel BUT the government MUST accept the recommendations of the Panel. It's locked in - hands tied. You would want to have complete trust in the panel and ideally know the outcome before hand.

Section 75 allows for Councils to reimburse Councillors for out-of-pocket-expenses arsing from their duties as a Councillor.

There are other provision related to review panels but they all apply to any variance after the initial 7 month allowance determination made by the Council under section 74(1).

According to the Municipal Association of Victoria (MAV)

Councillors are not considered employees of their council and do not receive employment benefits such as a salary, superannuation and leave entitlements.

Councillors receive an allowance as fixed by an Order in Council, which commenced operation on 1 July 2001.

Under this Order, the minimum allowance that can be received by a councillor is between $5,000 and $18,000 depending on the revenue and population base of each council.

Each council determines the amount to be paid to councillors within specified limits. Mayors receive a larger allowance due to their increased workload and role.

Councillors who reside in remote areas more than 50 kilometres from the location/s specified for the conduct of any authorised council business can be paid an additional allowance of $40 for each day they attend authorised meetings or functions.

A maximum payment that can be received by a councillor under this provision is $5,000 per annum. Councils generally set a policy for the provision of administrative support, resources, facilities and reimbursement of a councillor’s travel and out-of-pocket expenses. Councillors are also provided with secretarial support and telecommunication aids such as fax machines, internet access and mobile telephones.

Income equivalent to a councillor’s allowance will need to be included in their taxation return.

Councillors can decline to receive an allowance, in which case no tax would arise. Councillors are also entitled to deduct expenses relevant to their election costs and activities as a councillor.

The Australian Taxation Office sets limits for election expenses that can be deducted from a candidate’s income tax. (No mention of the requirement to pay Fringe-Benefits Tax - it pays not to ask too many questions).

We would be keen to know what advice Casey Council has obtained and if under the act the Council can set what ever additional allowances they think fit under the terms of out-of-pocket expenses - until such time as the Government Acts to limit the extent of additional allowances paid to Councillors - The sky is the limit.

It seams that every Council has opted to pay the maxium amount possible including additional expenses and now some want more.

It is messy but we think the Local Government Minister has been asleep on this one. We raised this issue a year ago but received no reply.

Questions that have not been answered.

SECTION 75 refers to out-of-pocket-expenses incurred while performing duties as a Councillor or committee member.

This is where the fun begins. It seams there is a wide definition and interpretation as to the meaning of out-of-pocket expenses. The Australian Tax department might refer to it as Fringe-benefits as opposed to business expense. We call it the lurkes and perks of office - Out of your pocket and into theirs.

DOES out-of-pocket-expenses include costs associated with Councillors who hold executive positions of a third party organisations with whom a Council is affiliated or should these costs be paid for by the third party organisation?

Can a persons duties of a third party organisation also be considered directly related to the performance of duties as a Councillor? Surely they are separate entities and as such can not and should not fall under the provisions of section 75?

If you happen to be an ex-officio member of your local golf club, because you are the local councillor, and are subsequently appointed to the executive of the Golf Club does that mean costs associated with your executive position of the golf club are out-of-pocket expenses related to your duties as a councillor? Can you travel to the US open golf tornament and ask the Council to reimburse you the costs of the trip?

In the City of Melbourne's case Green Councillor Frazer Brindley has been appointed Council delegate to ICLEI (International environment organisation run by former Melbourne City Councillor Martin Brennan) Cr Brindley has now been appointed to the executive of ICLEI (primarily because the City Council will pick up the tab) which meets regularly all around the world. (As part of his duties as an ICLEI executive member he needs to fly around the world to attend executive meetings generating excessive amounts of green house gases and Co2 emmissions - Why can't they use the internet video conferencing?)

Should the City of Melbourne pick up the costs associated with Cr Brindley's executive position of this third party organisation ? Does it fall under the provisions of section 75 of the Local Government Act arising from his duties as a Councillor? Is it not the responsibility of the third party organisation to meet its own costs of governance?

The onus is now on the Victorian Local Government Minister, Candy Broad, to address these issues and, if it hasn't already been done, set reasonable limits so that corrupt Councillors do not raid the cookie jar.

Link to extract of Victorian Local government Act stored in comments

Victorian Legislation and Parliamentary Documents
Part 4—Council Administration
Local Government Act 1989
Act No. 11/1989

Sections 74 and 75

Sunday, December 18, 2005

Greater City of Melbourne - public debate 2006/7

The City of Melbourne is in its second term of office since its last boundary representation review.

Under the terms of the Local Government Act the City of Melbourne and other inner urban municipalities are required to undertake a review of their boundaries and representation model.

We should use this opportunity over the next two years to debate and consider the merits of creating a "Greater City of Melbourne" providing more sustainable and cost effective inner City Governance.


The City of Melbourne should be merged with the City of Yarra, the City of Port Philip and the former City of Prahran - with adjustment to external boundaries to reunite the Kensington and Carlton communities.

The State Government and Local Councils should sponsor a series of public forums in 2006/7 to consider the merits of an expanded Greater City of Melbourne.

In addition to a review of external boundaries we should also review the method of direct election of Lord Mayor and Deputy Lord Mayor, the composition and structure of the City Council and its committees with the view of expanding the elected Council to 15 members and the involvement of local representatives and outside professional expertise in policy development and review.

Christmas tales from clown hall

A Christmas elf from the Governance department sent us this email

To: <melbcity@gmail.com>
Sent: Sunday, December 18, 2005

Hi. It was interesting reading your blog, it looks great and well written.It was funny that NG was unable to attend the last Council meeting for the year (as she was overseas, did you notice this in the minutes?)

At the Christmas BBQ on Thursday for CMT and support staff I must say that Pitchford was looking very ragged. Not happy and looking very stressed.

With Allison Lyon leaving and having to find a replacement, the ANZ bank threaterning to leave Melbourne and the Travel register having to be published adds to the pressure along with concern about his job in the future. It all seams to have dampened his Christmas sprits.

All the best for the season break

The chiristmas elf

In the meantime we are celebrating a small victory for the forces of common sense and open and transparent government - Seven years in the coming... We expect the administration will come up with some way of getting out of publishing it ... dampening our Christmas joy!!

Saturday, December 17, 2005

Shame Fraser Shame

Cr Fraser Brindley sells out and moves Council behind closed doors

Beyond the minutes - Council meeting december 13, 2005

Item 7.1 Travel Register and its Publication on the Council’s Website

The City Council passed the following motion: Moved Cr Shanahan

That Council:

1.1. publish the Council’s Travel Register on the Council’s Website on a quarterly basis, in accordance with the timeframes established with respect to the publication of Councillor Expense Statements; (why not as and when the reigsiter is unpdated? - good eGoverance practice)
1.2. note that, with respect to travel costs, where the total cost is not finalised, that part costs are included in the published Travel Register and identified as ‘part costs only’; (should not the register list costs occured and paid out by the council - This should included any advanced payments and a breakdown of costs into travel, accomodation, conference fees and sundry)
1.3. reinstate on Council’s website the Travel Register of the previous Council; (about time 4 to 7 yrs is appropiate)
1.4. maintain the Travel Registers on the Council’s website until such time as directed by Council to remove them; (hmmm)
1.5. require a report on the arrangement between the travel service provider/s Council, on National and International travel, including accommodation, to be presented to Finance and Corporate Performance Committee by March 2006; and (good but why so long a period?)
1.6. report on the cost of inbound missions borne by the Council to the Councillor Information Exchange sessions on a quarterly basis. (See below -Closed session)

The original motion included an amendement proposal by Cr Snedden and accepted by Cr Shanahan but was voted down by the Council.

"2.6 record on the Travel Register cost of inbound missions borne by the Council to be presented to the Finance and Corporate Performance Committee on a quarterly basis.” ( Open session available to the public)

The original motion was amended by Green Councillor Frazer Brindley who removed the reference requiring the report to be tabled at the Finance and Corporate Performance Committee instead having it refered to the Councillor Information Exhange Session.

This report will now be considered the behind closed doors in private session and not available to the public

WHY Frazer? You don't support open transparent government?.

This goes against the important principle of open and transparent governance and the Local Government Act which requires proceedings of the Council to be open to the public.

So much for the Green Party's committment to open and honest goverment SHAME Frazer SHAME

Clearly not as ethical as former Green's Councillor David Risstrom

If anything this is an indictment against the elected Council and demonstrates their lack of willingness to keep the public informed.

Ratepayers would like to know the full cost of in-bound missions. It certainly does not appear in the budget papers nor does the cost of in-house catering.

We will have to resort again to FoI the City Council to get hold of thi information. Information that should be readily available to the public.

This again demonstrates the City Council's ongoing abuse of the system and who's holding them to account.

The Travel register is a public document.

It is required under the Local Government (general) Regulations -Reg 11, to be updated regularly and available for public inspection . It should be published on the web as and when the register is updated and not just on a quarterly basis.

The Melbourne City Council continues to avoid accountability as it refuses to move into the 21st century and adopt good e-governance practices.

See previous posts for other issues related to the Travel register ignored by the Council

Beyond the minutes - City Council - December 13, 2005

Reflection on the minutes - Melbourne City Council Meeting - December 13, 2005

Item 5.2 City Parking - milking the meter - The City Council moved to increase the cost of on-street parking for the second time in the last 6 months (48%) - Cr Clark moved an amendment to establish an Expenditure review sub Committee of the FCP Committee to assess and recommend expenditure reductions in the 05/06 Budget to overcome the need for an increase in parking fees and report to the February Committee meeting;

Cr Clarke’s amendment was put and lost with Crs. Clarke and Snedden voting in favour of the motion and the John So, Gary Singer, Frazer Bindley, Carl Jetter and Brian Shanahan voting against the amendment. (Councillors Catherine Ng and David Wilson absent. We understand that Councillor NG is overseas on some fact finding trip)

Item 5.3 Waste Transfer Station - Closed Session - Public denied information

Item 5.4 CityWide Furture Directions - Closed Session - Public denied information

Item 5.5 Inner Melbourne Action Plan - Established a new committee - Will this committee be open to the public and all documentation available on the Councils web site as required by the Local Government Act.

Item 5.6 River fest - Open chequebook $30,000 dollars spent from consolidated revenue for 2 days youth conference and other River activities (not disclosed in resolution)

Item 5.7 Sustainable Melbourne Fund - Council forgoes 4.5% return on 5 Million dollar investment - Review every five years only!

That's a loss subsidy of over $225,000.00 a year or ($428,500.00 at 8.57%) Is this responsible management of the cities investments?

Council rejects motion by Cr Clarke “That Council approve the financial statements of the Sustainable Melbourne Fund and invite the trustees to discuss with Council the future of the Fund.” - Why?

Item 5.8 Cooperative Agreement Between City of Melbourne and Southern Province of Sri Lanka - Approval responsibility delegated to Lord Mayor - No budget allocation or indication of costs of agreement. Details not yet finalised. Council signs off without knowing or disclosing the full cost and impact/benefits.

Item 5.9 Tender Evaluation Report: Banner Servicing and Maintenance - $260,000.00 maintenance contract for city banners.

Item 5.10 Proposal to Attend MIPIM Asia Conference, Hong Kong, September 2006 - That Council endorsed in principle, subject to the 2006/07 Budget process, the participation by the City of Melbourne in the MIPIM Asia 2006 Conference subject to:

1.1. a detailed break down of costs of attendance;
1.2. officers providing a report on the format of our participation in
conjunction with business groups and industry associations; and

1.3. a report being provided on anticipated outcomes of Council’s

Should not the anticipated outcome come before any agreement of participation. No budget allocation recorded in the resolution we can expect this to increase as time progresses.

Cr Jetter declared a conflict of interest but failed to declare, as required under the Local Government Act, what the conflict was. Why? What was the nature of the conflict of interest? Did he discuss this issue with other Councillors prior to the meeting? Was it raised in the Councillor Information Exchange Session? Was Councillor Jetter present at any pre-council meeting?

Item 5.11 Redevelopment of Recreational and Sporting Facilities Used by the AFL - previous proposals rescinded $2 million to be spent on upgrading spotting facilities with no financial benefit analysis - Sporting clubs and State Government to match council funding total $6 Million upgrade. Councillor Frazer Brindley voting against the motion.

Item 6.1 Melbourne Childrens’ Garden in TianjinMelbourne Tianjin 25th Anniversary Legacy Project. - Allocation of $180,000 for non budgeted expenditure for Melbourne's Sister City in China

Mean while Melbourne's Peace Garden, located in the Exhibition Gardens, commemorating the Tibetan Dali Lama's visit to Melbourne is left wanting and in need of maintenance.

What is the total cost tally of all expenditure including staff and Council Travel to Melbourne's Sister Cities? Is one sibling, Tianjin, being favoured above and beyond the other seven sisters?

See post Shame Fraser Shame for item 7.1 Council Travel register

Friday, December 16, 2005

So caucus limited - So divisive

John So and his team have been accused of smugness and exclusiveness.

Sources in the Council Governance department have said there is growing dissatisfaction amongst the non-So councillors, who feel they are being shut out of the decision making process, with John So and his team voting in a block to exclude any outside input. "They are being divisive and if this keeps up we will not hold pre-council meetings instead preferring to raise issues in open council " one Councillor was reported as saying.

The main culprits and most of the criticism has been leveled at Crs. Singer and Jetter. Both who have no real idea as to why they are there.

Cr Singer was recently found guilty of professional misconduct and fined by the Law Institute for withholding funds. He was reported as having complained the first day in office at his low rate of pay ($45,000 per year) plus benefits - a free car with petrol paid for, free city parking, free meals, free secretarial support, free mobile phone, free fax, free internet, free holidays overseas and interstate and free theatre tickets for him and his boy friend, all benefit-tax free. What's he complaining about? He knew the deal when he took on the position. There are many more Councillors out there working harder and getting much less, so we don't think anyone will be championing his cause.

We think it would be good for Melbourne if the issues under consideration were out in the open and Councillors debated the merits of their proposals for all to see - Open and Transparent Government

If they are going to continue to shut out the other Councillors then bring it on.

game on.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

e-Governance and the Electronic Whiteboard

The Melbourne City Council last night passed, as expected, a resolution requesting the Council to republish the details of the Council's Travel Register on its Internet site.

John So and his team were at first reluctant but latter agreed under pressure from other Councillors who thought the public have a right of access to this information

It has taken the City of Melbourne over 7 years and cost 10o's of thousands of dollars in Council resources trying to avoid accountability and the publication of this basic public document. It was published for a brief moment last year and then mysteriously removed during the Christmas break.

Disappointingly the City Council has only requested that the register be published on a quarterly basis. Why?

It is a public document that is readily updated. The register should be published as and when the information recorded on the register changes.

This means that we will still have to drop into Town Hall and arrange inspection of the real register to monitor the changes. More wasted resources as the Council tries to avoid its public responsibility and accountability.

The register in its current format is widely open to abuse and in the recent past we have seen how readily the Council administration fiddles with the details of the register. There is no sequential record id, as would normally be the case, so it is rather easy for corrupt staff or staff acting under instruction to remove items from publication. In the past, under the old system, it was very difficult to falsify the register as the information was written into a hard bound book and any changes would show up immediately.

The Travel register is effectively an Electronic Whiteboard.

Without a valid record id it is going to be harder for an audit to be undertaken to verify the correctness and fullness of the accounts.

We witnessed last year modifications to the register when it suited the Council. Tony Nicholson's St Petersburg expenses mysteriously changed overnight and missing to account is $8,000.00 which the Council had paid out but had not yet been acquitted in that the receipts are missing.

The Council administration's response? Say nothing do nothing, try and avoid the question and provide no answers.

How many other accounts are missing data or hidden away under some other expense item or creative accounting?

This does not reflect well on the Auditors who we believe are trying their best to keep up with the bad accounting practices of the administration. They should not have to be placed in this sort of compromising position. The system should be comprehensive, honest, open and transparent.

e-Governance - reality or myth?

The City of Melbourne has spent thousands of dollars in talk fests and the like promoting the benefits of e-Governance in justifying the expense of developing electronic management systems but when it comes to implementation of basic public accountability and disclosure of public documents they are not prepared to be held to account. The cost of publishing this information is around $1.00

For how long can they hold back the tide of change?

If the Council can not demonstrate its ability to self-govern then clearly the State Government must. The Government need to review Local Government Legislation and regulations to ensure that Council's live up to their responsibility and make sure information is readily available for public scrutiny via the internet. The internet is a valuable cost effective tool in ensure that Governments are held to account by maintaining an honest open and transparent government.

Where to now?

The Council MUST reconsider and publish the register when information changes. Information should be published within 24 hours of any changes to the data.

The Council MUST include a Record ID and date stamp as is the normal standard`practice so as to enable proper audit of the register.

There should be a break down of costs listing Travel, Accommodation, conference fees and sundry so the information can be reconciled with other accounts to demonstrate that nothing is missing and the Register has not been falsified as has occurred in the past.

Other public documents should also be published and made available on the internet including the cost of in-house catering and the cost of the Lord Mayor and Deputy Lord Mayor's ratepayer funded vehicles and details of the monthly financial accounts.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Lord Mayor and Deputy Lord Mayor siphoning petrol from the Council bowsers

As petrol prices increase there is ongoing concern related to the cost to ratepayers in providing the Lord Mayor and the Deputy Lord Mayor vehicular access. Costs that go unreported on the published Councillor expense statements

Under Council's benefits guidelines the Lord Mayor, John So, is entitled to a chauffeur driven limo and the Deputy Lord Mayor, Garry Singer, is provided with a self-drive limo - both are six cylinder petrol guzzlers.

The Council foots the fuel bills and maintenance costs on both vehicles.

Last year it was reported that the Lord Mayor's limo driver received payment in excess of $100,000 a year including overtime - This years cost go unreported.

It is unclear if the Council is paying the fringe-benefits tax associated with the Lord Mayor's and Deputy Lord Mayor's vehicles.

Under taxation law the Council is required to maintain a travel log to demonstrate the extent of travel that is related to the business of the Council as opposed to private use and taxes are payable on the proportion that is deemed for private use.

Both the Lord Mayor and Deputy Lord Mayor have free access to the Council petrol bowsers located in Little Collins Street allowing them to siphon out petrol for their personal use.

Unlike other Councillors the costs associated with local travel for the Lord Mayor and the Deputy Lord Mayor are not disclosed or published in the Councillor expense statements along with the other Councillors local travel costs. Why?

Under the provisions of the Local Government (General) Regulations 2004 the Council is required to maintain a list, which is required to be made available to the public, which includes:

  • details of senior officers' total salary packages for the current financial year and the previous year including the gross salary, the amount of the Council or employer contribution to superannuation, the value of any motor vehicle provided by the Council and the total value of any other benefits and allowances provided by the Council;

  • details of all property, finance and operating leases involving land, buildings, plant, computer equipment or vehicles entered into by the Council as lessor or lessee, including the name of the other party to the lease and the terms and the value of the lease;

Whilst it regulations do not yet include incidental costs such as free fuel, and it is unclear if also includes costs of benefits provided to Councillors is included, this information should be published in the interest of maintaining open and transparent governance.

We understand that senior staff members have access to the Council bowser and are also provided with Fuel Charge cards allowing them top fill up at Councils expense.

The cost of the Council's overall fuel bill including any credit card purchases would be of interest to ratepayers. The Council administration can and should provide a breakdown of costs by department and if need be by individual users.

Fringe-benefits Tax

In spite numerous requests no information as been provided by the Council as to the extent of its liability and amount paid in fringe benefits tax to both staff and Councillors.

We have written to the Council audit committee before seeking this information but again no response. Are they avoiding payment of taxes due?

We previously have asked similar questions in relation to the allocation of Frequent Flyer Awards allocated to staff and Councillors undertaking Council overseas and interstate travel. All are subject to a fringe-benefits tax.

Feasting on the ratepayer

The City of Melbourne is dining in at our expense estimated at to be anywhere from around $250,000 to $750,000 a year for in-house catering costs

The Lord mayor is said to spend up big holding regular State like functions wineing and dining the many visitors and guests to our city.

Councillors and senior staff enjoy a full course meal every meeting and staff regularly serve light meals, snacks and drinks at the numerous functions and seminars held within the town hall. It makes the State Parliament dinning room look like a tuck shop.

Senior Council staff also add to the bill by ordering takeaway, or dine-out at expensive restaurants when it suits, picking up the tab on the corporate credit card.

One staff member put on the Council credit card the cost of $100/person for a night out for the entire delegation on one of the Council's many overseas junkets. Because the cost was allocated to the staff members account the amount spent did not show up on the Councillors' expense statement. Cleaver creative accounting recipes in how to cook the books.

There are many Municipal Councils who would die to have access to half of the Council's catering bill - just to meet necessary community expenses let alone the luxury entertainment enjoyed by staff and councillors down at town hall.

Some Councillors have been reported as saying the quality of the in-house catering is not to their likening and the food just goes to waste left untouched on the plate until deposited in the bin

There are homeless people on the streets of Melbourne who go without a meal and are lucky if they can afford the cost of a Big Mac.

We have requested the Council provide detailed cost breakdown of the Council's in-house catering bill but to date have not received any response to our request.

Surely the Council maintains an account of this expenditure in its financial analysis, if not then why not, if yes then publish the details. Show us the bill and do not forget the tips and cost of alcohol.

It would appear that the only way to obtain information on the expenditure of the City Council is via Freedom of Information. This is a clear abuse of process as Council have an obligation to make this information available without the need to apply under FoI.

As s0on as we get a meaningful reply to our request we will publish it for all to see but don't hold back your appetite waiting... we expect it will be a long wait before it is served.

Monday, December 12, 2005

Alison Lyon leaves the den

Leaving behind a legacy of poor governance

Rumour of fact - our sources in the Council Governance Department tells us;

Alison Lyon, Melbourne City Council's Legal and Governance Officer is departing the City of Melbourne and taking up a position at the Municipal Association of Victoria (MAV).

Ms Lyon's advice to the City of Melbourne was highly questionable as was her professional ethics.

She cost the City of Melbourne $100,000's of dollars in highly questionable advice and on many occasions had generated concern about misuse of her office and possible breaches of the Local Government Act.

She was the officer responsible for spending over $60,000.00 of ratepayers money in seeking to withhold detailed election results.

The standard of Council administration under her management seriously declined. Many around the town hall had good cause to question her motives and the quality of her advice.

Ms Lyon was responsible for the management of the Council's FoI section. It appears that the State Government may have been mislead by the City of Melbourne in relation to the Council's non-performance of FoI with notable omissions to the number of decisions overturned on appeal by the Victorian Civil Administrative Tribunal (VCAT).

Staff were often compromised (on at least one occasion members of staff came close to being charged with giving false evidence in court proceedings) as a result of her ill-considered unprofessional advice.

She will not be missed.

Sunday, December 11, 2005

CEO rumour files

Melbourne CEO expected to go soon after the commonwealth games

Rumours are abound that Melbourne City Council CEO, David Pitchford will loose his job sometime after the Commonwealth Games.

Talk around the chamber is that John So and other City Councillors are not happy with the beleaguered CEO and his lack-lustre 'stay low' performance, proving ex-councillors Kevin Chamberlain and David Risstrom right.

To top it up his position is constantly being undermined by the Council's governance department and the other City directors who are chipping way at his standing internally adding to his certain demise.

The only question outstanding is one of timing and how to avoid a big compensation payout.

The Melbourne City Council had the same problem with David's predecessor, Michael Malouf.

The City Council in Malouf's case refused to renew his five-year contract. Instead they striked up a deal where the embattled CEO was offered a reduced three-year contract to allow him time to find alternative employment and to make a smooth exit. Under the stewardship of Michael Malouf the City Council became dysfunctional, lacking leadership and professional direction. The quality of governance began to decline and the State Government was left with no alternative but to step in and sack the elected Council. There are many, myself included, that believe Micheal Malouf was to a large part responsible for the demise of the City Council at the time and that he too should have been replaced along with the elected City Council.

Its not going to be as easy with Pitchford, as he has little in the offering. If worst comes to worst his position will not be renewed when his contract is up for renewal but insiders say that John So wants him to go sooner rather then later.

Commonwealth ... Game on.

Beware - we are entering the danger period - the silly season

We are entering the danger zone - the silly season - the period when the public eye is off the ball and thoughts of leisure and time spent on a sandy beach with family and friends overcome prudent scrutiny and good governance. A time when we need to be vigilant more then ever.

I am not talking about the end of season office party as referred to by Neil Michell (Herald-Sun)

This is the time when the administration sneaks in the odd report/recommendation or memo and before you know it we have signed off on some issue that should never have seen the light of day but the administration wanted cleared up.

This is the time when catastrophic 'accidents', some by design, occur.

This is the period when the administration later claim "we sent you a memo - you had the right to respond. You are later told "The proposal was on display" in some obscure corner or hidden away amongst the Christmas cheer. (Sounds like the opening scene of the Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy). But the sad truth it is part of the public administrators operating instructions and could very well be a line from a "Yes Minister" script.

Now is not the time to be jolly and careless, now is the time to be on extra alert.

Bad planning decisions, issues of governance control or even the removal of information that holds the administration to account.

It is a time when all decisions of the Council administration should be scrutinised carefully. The Christmas functions and the like are really designed to create a smoke screen, an opportunity to slip the mickey and before you know it, come the new year when you return from your Christmas break, you have signed up and committed to something you never knew anything about.

Beware... be seriously aware.

Friday, December 09, 2005

Council administration seeks to water down disclosure and accountability

Melbourne City Council administration seeks to avoid accountability by watering down proposed recommendation to publish Council's Travel Register

Link to Original Report (pdf)

A report to be considered by the City Council on December 13, 2005 seeks to limit the publication of the Council's Travel register recording all staff and Councillor's overseas and interstate travel expenses.

Melbourne City Council CEO, David Pitchford. claims he had sent a memo to all Councillors the day before Christmas Eve 2004 informing Councillors that the Travel Register which was previously published on the internet would be removed.

The Council administration is now claiming that the publication of information recorded in the Travel Register would contravene staff privacy requirements.

Clearly Council staff do not want to be held accountable or fail to understand the extent of corporate responsibility they have in respect to the expenditure of public money.

Ratepayers' and the public have a right to know the full extent of staff and councillor overseas and interstate travel expenses.

The Travel Register is required to be maintained by the City Council - Reg 11 Local Government (General) Regulations. It is a public document required to be made available to the public on request. The publication on the Internet is an efficient and cost effective means of making this information available for public scrutiny.

The recommendation proposed by Cr Shanahan calls on the Council to only publish the Travel register on a quarterly basis. Why?

There is no reason why the information should not be published as and when the register is updated.

The proposal to limit the publication on a quarterly basis is unwarranted and should be rejected by the council who should insist that the information is maintained and published within 24 hours of the register being updated.

Further the current wording of Cr Shanahan's recommendation indicates that the information will not be available until the end of 2006. - We think this is a typo-error but if it is not corrected it will certainly give the administration more time to avoid publication and accountability

Travel Register "Electronic Whiteboard" open to misuse and abuse

In the past the register was maintained in a hard bound folder and as such made it extremely difficult for the Council administration to tamper with the information recorded.

The Melbourne City Council Travel register is currently recorded on a "Electronic Whiteboard"in the form of an Microsoft Excel spreadsheet.

It is widely open to abuse in that information is readily changeable and items can be altered or removed without any record or audit trail. - Another reason why the information should be published in a timely fashion within 24 hour of any changes to allow for the monitoring of any change to the data.

In 2004 the Council administration altered the Travel Register removing expenses allocated to former Cr Nicholson's St. Petersburg sorte - $8,000 in travel expenses missing and unaccounted for. And this is just the tip of the iceberg.


The Council's Travel Register clearly needs review and basic audit requirements need to be implemented to maintain public confidence in the Council's accounts.

If the Council is serious about maintaining an open and transparent governance then it should consider the following recommendations:

The Travel register :

  1. MUST be published on the Council's web site and the publication updated within 24 hours of any addition or update to the information recorded in the register.
  2. Should be maintained in a database as opposed to a spreadsheet.
  3. MUST record a sequential record ID number so as to assist with the audit process of the Council.
  4. MUST record the date of entry and the date of any modification to items listed.
  5. Should include the date, instrument of authorisation and name of the person authorising travel expenses.
  6. Should record a breakdown of costs - covering Travel, Accommodation, Conference fees and incidentals in addition to the total costs of actual travel expenses. This would enable better reconciliation with other accounts and reports of the information provided.
  7. Should record the authorisation of travel expenses and include a budget allocation with reference to the appropriate approved taxation department travel expenses guidelines, accompanied with any documentation or travel diaries and expense receipts as required and listed under current taxation guidelines (TR 03-007) be published.
  8. Where the costs of a staff member or Councillor travel is subsidised or self funded in full or in part then a note identifying the source and extent of the subsidy/funding should be made on the Travel Register. It is important that the public know the full extent of any third party funding of overseas trips - Remember the overseas trips taken by the Former Victorian Governor General sacked by the Cain Government after it was discovered that the costs of the Governor's trip to the united States was paid for by an American Casino corporation.

The above recommendations are basic requirements that whilst going above and beyond the minimum requirements outline in the Local Government regulations clearly would enhance the functionality of the Council's governance whilst limiting the potential for fraud and deceit.

Anthony van Der Craats

Monday, December 05, 2005

Decision to buy back polluted power station site under question

Melbourne City Council has demonstrated, once again, its failure to manage the affairs of the city and how far removed from reality it is .

Its recent decision to buy back the 'old' Melbourne Power Station in Lonsadale Street should be reviewed by the State Government.

Link to original article in the Age

Millions of dollars wasted in what could only be seen as highly questionable land deal costing ratepayers millions of dollars. Where is the logic, strategic Planning and benefit to the City.

This is not the first time the City of Melbourne has sold property at a bargain price only to buy it back a few years later at an inflated value. (Remember the Queen Victoria building site)

The City Council must now release the full details of the original contract of sale and the proposed partnership agreement to buy back the site at twice its original sale price.

Questions must be answered if public confidence is to be maintained.

Saturday, December 03, 2005

ANZ quits Melbourne - City Council blamed for exit

The ANZ bank has indicated that it is planning a shift of its head quarters in Melbourne to Sydney.

Link to original story

The ANZ bank is a major employer in the heart of the city and its exit from Melbourne would deliver a big blow.

The main reason stated for the ANZ's planned move is intransigence from the Melbourne City Council which in its view has shown little to no care to its concerns about planning and services.

Join the queue.

The ANZ bank is not the only corporation that is getting the raw end of the deal. The ANZ occupies one of Melbourne most historic buildings in Collins Street. It really is a gem dating back to Melbourne hey day in the gold rush. It would be a real blow to see the bank vacate these premises.

Whilst it is difficult to make a full assessment of the ANZ banks concerns without have access to its exact requirements and the reasons why the City of Melbourne could not accommodate their concerns. The departure of the bank will reduce the City Council's bank balance and unless a new tenant of standing can be found a huge hole in Melbourne financially sector with added concern that other financial sector business will follow..

We do not think the State Government would be happy in hearing the news. "John Brumby is most likely calling for crises talks in the cabinet as we speak. The sand has not yet run out of the hour glass and hopefully the City of Melbourne can demonstrate is desire and find a solution to the Banks problems.

The onus is now on Rob Adams, City Director of planning and Design - Innovative City, to come up with a compromise. Rob Adams is well known for his ability to capitulate when the going gets tough (remember his quick back-down and loss of integrity on the issue of the relocation of the Museum to the Carlton Gardens - he knew it was wrong for Melbourne and wrong for the Museum but he couldn't have back-down faster if he was driving a porche under pressure from the then Premier Jeff Kennett and his cohorts.)

Well Rob this is one of those monuments we wait with interest to see what you can come up with, that is unless it is way too late.