August 03, 2004 | Jeff Wall

City Councillors indulging themselves…the expense of their ratepayers

THE ink was barely dry on the declarations of local authority results in Queensland just over three months ago when virtually every major City Council began the process of increasing the salaries and allowances of its Councillors in the least transparent way possible.
The one exception was the City of Brisbane, where the salaries of Councillors are tied to those of State MP’s, whose salaries are tied to those of Federal MP’s!
The appalling indulgence of some City Councils when it comes to the salaries and allowances of Councillors must surely encourage the Minister for Local Government to seriously consider removing the power Councillors have to fix their own salaries and allowances.
The worst offenders of all also happen to be the worst behaving Councillors of all – those who call themselves the Gold Coast City Council.
Last week they brazenly granted themselves across the board increases – many times the rate of inflation – using the feeble, miserable excuse that they were entitled to bring their salaries closer to those of State Members.
The even more miserable feature of the increase was that the recently-elected Mayor, Ron Clarke, supported the increase despite his brave but totally dishonest promise BEFORE he was elected that he would cut the cost of being Mayor………. ….a promise he has shamefully broken almost weekly since his election.
Three Councillors, the unofficial Civic Opposition, voted against the increase but just one said he would give the increase to charity. Councillor Dawn Crichlow, the vastly overrated “champion of the underdog” (and the stray dog) voted against the rise but has not said he won’t accept it!
Right around Queensland City, Town and Shire Councils have been indulging themselves at the expense of their ratepayers in the sure and certain knowledge their greed will be forgotten by the time they next face the ratepayers and citizens in 2008 – and that itself is a profound argument against four year terms for anyone!
This process also confirming a wholly undesirable trend for Councillors to make their jobs virtually fulltime. With the exception of Brisbane, and possibly the Gold Coast, that has never been the intention of the Local Government Act, or, I am sure, their long suffering ratepayers.
Last week at least one medium size city voted to pay its Councillors over $50,000 a year (plus allowances). In that community – suffering the impact of drought and the agricultural decline – such a figure would put them in the “upper income” group.
When I began my career as a journalist one of my tasks was to write on local government. It game me the privilege of getting to know some of the truly great civic leaders of this State, such as H G “Paddy” Behan, Chairman of the Isisford Shire Council for over 40 years and President of the Local Government Association for almost as long, and Jim Walker, Chairman of the Longreach Shire for well over two decades.
At the same time, Brisbane’s best ever Lord Mayor, Clem Jones, was in the middle of his record 13 year leadership of the capital city. Clem Jones refused to take the Lord Mayoral salary for the whole of his term, accepting only the allowances that went with it.
How times have changed? The great majority of Mayors today are pale imitations of the great Mayors of the past – full of their own importance, and filling their pockets at the same time!
There are a couple of exceptions, and I will mention two who are as far apart politically as possible – Tony Mooney in Townsville and Yvonne Chapman in Pine Rivers.
At the same time as Councillors have been helping themselves to the ratepayers funds, they have been upping the rates and charges as well to add insult to injury.
The concept of “serving the community” used to be the reason why many good men and women sought election to their local council. Today it has become “serving ourselves” and is it little wonder that the standing of local government is generally on the decline?
I guess it cost Paddy Behan a small fortune each year to serve as President of the Local Government Association while remaining Chairman of the Isisford Shire in the far west of Queensland. Fortunately he was a successful wool grower and could probably afford it.
But that is not the point. The concept of “community service” in Local Government was a noble one. It is today but a part of our history.
The new Minister for Local Government is a down to earth politician. She would win many friends if she put a halt to the greed and indulgence of Councillors right around Queensland, and set up an independent Tribunal to determine the salaries and allowances of Council Members.
Long suffering, and powerless ratepayers, would forever be in her debt!

Posted by Jeff Wall at 11:09 pm | Comments Off on City Councillors indulging themselves…the expense of their ratepayers |
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