Melbourne City Council's former Deputy Lord Mayor, Peter McMullin (alias Peter McClown) is in the news again this time in his new stomping ground and new role as Geelong's Mayor.
The Age - Geelong mayors back inquiry
Cr Peter McMullin, who is also supposedly a lawyer having studied Law at Melbourne University, told The Age that the conflict of interest provisions in the act were unclear. "The legal environment is incredibly confused, as to what's an interest, what's a conflict of interest, a pecuniary interest."
We would have thought it was pretty straight forward and that given his years of experience as a Lawyer and Local Government practitioner he would have had some Idea by now. (But according to comments made by John Howie from Howie and Maher who took over representation of Community Radio station 3CR you can never tell.)
If in doubt don't leave it out.
If you have a pecuniary interest either direct or indirect then there is a potential for a conflict of Interest. An interest could come in the form of direct payments or indirect payment such as receiving kick backs, gifts or donations.
The provisions of Victorian Local Government Act 1989 endeavour to set out what those responsibilities are but, as is often the case with Lawyers when their clients who are caught between a rock and a hard place or in the case of Geellong a community and a developer, they never know.
This question is asked all the time down that City of Melbourne Clown Hall.
The City of Melbourne has a clear cut policy where the Council does not provide legal advise to Councillors in respect to issues of conflict of interest provisions.
A sound policy and one that should apply in all cases where personal legal advice is requested.
The City Council is not qualified to provide a free legal advisory service. Any decisions to seek personal legal advice should always be a decision of the elected Council as a whole and then only in the interest of the Council as a whole and not any individual councillor. In the case of a primary assessment advise should only be given with the consent of the relevant committee chairperson or in the course of responding to recommendations before Council . The problem being of course if the Council provides legal advice and that advice is later found to be defective (which was often the case with advice provided by Melbourne City Council's former legal governance officer, Alison Lyons) is that it leaves the City Council wide open to abuse and possible corruption and misuse of council's resources not to mention questions of professional liability.
Councillor McClown, who held the position of Melbourne Deputy Lord Mayor for one year before being dumped from the position in 1997, being a lawyer should know full well this fact.
We often wonder if McClown had a conflict of interest when he all of a sudden backed down and refused to support a call for the State Government to subject the then proposed Museum development in the Carlton Gardens to a proper planning process. (The motion lost by one vote)
To this day no satisfactory explanation has been provided by McMullin as to why he refused to support the motion. Had the Museum Development undergone a proper planning assessment the Museum might not have been built were it is today and would not be in the financial trouble it now finds itself i and Melbourne would have been that much better off.
The problems and accusations of conflict of Interest in Geelong is a one that has captured the attention of all Municipal Councils through out Australia and has spilled over into the bloggersphere. One suggestion that was logged is that Councillor McMullin should set an example and help put the issues under debate to rest by submitting a statutory declarations and
calling on his fellow councillors to do likewise.
In the mean-time we will along with the rest will watch with ever increasing interest the outcome.