COUNCILLOR’S OVERSEAS TRAVEL

This morning the News-Mail published an article relating to the current attendance by four Councillors and a Senior Business Development Officer (Translator) to our Sister City of Nanning, China.

The trip is in response to an invitation from the Mayor of the Nanning Municipal People’s Government to attend:

  • the 13th China ASEAN Expo and
  • Nanning International Folk Song Arts Festival.

In particular, the article focused on the fact that all air fares and associated travel expenses were now being paid for by ratepayers whilst the Nanning Government would meet the cost of local transportation, chartering, meals and accommodation.

The article records that the trip was approved at a recent Council meeting but doesn’t mention that I voted against it so I think that it’s now incumbent on me to explain the reasons behind my vote.

My view is and always has been that, if a Councillor proposes to attend any function or event related to his/her position/portfolio whether it be nationally or internationally, then a business case needs to be presented for consideration. (The Mayor can approve national attendances whilst international trips have to be approved in an open forum by the full Council). If it can be demonstrated that the attendance will provide an immediate or future benefit for the ratepayers of our region, then consideration will need to be given to determine if a cost/benefit analysis justifies the attendance as an work-related expense. As far as I’m aware, this is a similar procedure adopted by businesses in the private sector.

Having said that, there clearly needs to be a level of constraint applied to ensure that all attendances reflect the overall public interest and the responsible expenditure of ratepayer funds.

Again, in my view, there are many cases where the Mayor or his delegate should (by default) be an attendee and especially in instances where international relations and protocols are involved. In the case of the current Nanning trip, the supporting Business Development Officer who is a native of China and obviously fluent in the language and customs, will be an invaluable asset as a translator/advisor and should also attend.

In the lead-up to  this delegation I had been urged by many Councillors to take part as the time is ripe to open up tourism and trade opportunities (my portfolio) by establishing connections and protocols in Nanning with tourism wholesalers, relevant political identities and potential importers (into China) ahead of a future tourism/trade delegation. From the outset I made it quite clear that I would only consider attending if the delegation could clearly demonstrate some defined goals and achievable community benefits.

I certainly don’t want my comments to reflect negatively on the intention of anyone however it’s difficult to fully explain my thoughts without putting all of the issues on the table.

When it became clear that others were proposing to attend in the absence of any business plan or connection to their portfolio and some having previously attended the same overseas City a number of times, I felt obliged to raise my concerns. These were centred on (in my opinion) the unjustifiable use of ratepayers funds immediately after a rate rise and the likely negative perception in the ‘Court of Public Opinion’. Not only did I raise these concerns as an elected representative but I did so also as a ratepayer.

There will always be critics of overseas travel by Local Government representatives and that’s a fact of life. However as I’ve said above, I am quite prepared to defend an overseas or domestic attendance when it can be justified by a reasonable case with definable outcomes for the community.

Having considered all the information I could not justify sending all of the delegates on this trip and I am not prepared to even try to defend the decision that approved it. Indeed, it’s for this reason that I felt obliged to withdraw from the delegation and not have my name associated with it.

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