Lord Mayor’s penalty hearing for breaches of act continues tomorrow

Perth Lord Mayor Lisa Scaffidi. Picture: Giovanni Torre
Perth Lord Mayor Lisa Scaffidi. Picture: Giovanni Torre

PERTH Lord Mayor Lisa Scaffidi will face day two of her penalty hearing tomorrow, arising from the State Administrative Tribunal (SAT) findings against her that she is now challenging in the Supreme Court.

Ms Scaffidi faced day one of her penalty hearing last Wednesday, June 14, which came after the SAT found she had committed 45 breaches of the Local Government Act by failing to properly declare gifts and third party contributions to her travel.

On May 22 – 13 days after the Tribunal’s decision – Ms Scaffidi lodged a writ with the Court of Appeal seeking to have the SAT findings set aside.

The Tribunal’s decisions bulletin, published earlier, lists the decision and before detailing the outcome notes: “This decision is currently pending appeal at the Supreme Court”.

Given the writ was lodged on May 22, the Tribunal proceeded with the penalty hearing last week aware its finding was being challenged in the Supreme Court.

The fact they did not delay the penalty deliberations suggests whatever penalty it imposes will take effect immediately, unless Ms Scaffidi secures an injunction.

As such, the penalty would remain in force unless and until the Supreme Court rules in favour of the Lord Mayor.

In the penalty proceedings, the Lord Mayor hopes to rely on a New South Wales case involving former Auburn councillor Salim Mehajer.

In 2014, Mr Mehajer was suspended for three months for providing “false and misleading” information on his declaration of pecuniary interests in 2012 and 2013.

On appeal, the New South Wales Supreme Court found that suspension should be reserved for cases involving proven “intentional concealment… repeat offences or other similar serious cases”.

Ms Scaffidi’s lawyer, Steven Penglis, argued this set a precedent applicable to the Lord Mayor’s case.

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However, the NSW case did find suspension was applicable for repeat offences, and the Lord Mayor was found to have committed 45 breaches.

Last Wednesday the Lord Mayor told the hearing she had been “careless” with the gift declarations, and agreed with David Leigh, the lawyer representing the Department of Local Government, that she had “blithely ignored” warnings about her annual returns.

Mr Leigh mentioned trips to South Korea and Japan in which third party contributions were not declared, despite Lord Mayor requesting flights in business class.

He used the example of the BHP-Billiton gift of travel and accommodation to the Beijing Olympics as one “so extraordinary” she should have remembered to declare it.

“At US$24,000 it was worth three-and-a-half times more than the gifts from all the other years combined,” he said.

The State Solicitors Office team presented email correspondence showing Ms Scaffidi discussing the Beijing trip with a staff member, Ms Higgins.

“You emailed Ms Higgins asking about (entering the Beijing trip on) the gift register. She replied 20 minutes later ‘sure, what is the value of the trip?’ to which there was never an email response,” Mr Leigh said.

Ms Scaffidi said she believed she had verbally told Ms Higgins as she was in the next office and she had encouraged her to seek confirmation of the trip’s value.

Former Perth chief executive Gary Stevenson and former Perth councillor Rob Butler also gave evidence.

WA Premier Mark McGowan, Opposition Leader Mike Nahan and Local Government Minister David Templeman have called on Ms Scaffidi to resign.

The penalty hearing resumes tomorrow morning.

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