PERTH Lord Mayor Lisa Scaffidi’s penalty hearing at the State Administrative Tribunal will advance into a second day next Wednesday after today’s proceedings closed without a resolution.
Former Perth chief executive Gary Stevenson, former Perth councillor Rob Butler, and the Lord Mayor gave evidence today.
Earlier this year the Tribunal found the Lord Mayor had breached the Local Government Act 45 times arising from failing to declare gifts and travel contributions.
Ms Scaffidi’s lawyer Steven Penglis questioned Mr Stevenson via video link from Queensland, largely focusing on the training and induction provided to new councillors at the City of Perth in relation to gift declarations, especially in annual returns.
On cross examination from Ms Carolyn Thatcher and David Leigh from the State Solicitors Office, representing the Department of Local Government, Mr Stevenson defended the induction processes at the City during his time as CEO as “comprehensive”.
“We provided comprehensive induction to new councillors and refreshers to sitting councillors, also the WA Local Government Association provided training opportunities… and I sent an annual memorandum to elected members reminding them of their obligations in regard to Annual Returns,” he said.
Mr Leigh quizzed the Lord Mayor on her travel as a member of the Australian Press Council.
She said that from 2000 to 2009 she had not declared them (as an elected member of council) because she saw it as business outside the City of Perth, even thought the APC was paying the bill.
She declared them when encouraged to by former Perth chief executive Frank Edwards, but then stopped again the next year – saying she “didn’t recall” the matter one year on.
Mr Leigh mentioned trips to South Korea and Japan in which third party contributions were not declared, despite Lord Mayor requesting Business Class flights.
Ms Scaffidi said the schedules were extremely hectic with little time for rest or preparation between engagements, hence the preference for Business Class.
Mr Leigh used the example of the BHP-Billiton gift to the Lord Mayor of travel and accommodation at the Beijing Olympics in 2008 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 to Ms Scaffidi on the stand.
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,” said Mr Lee.
“You said it was not on the gift register as a result of Ms Higgins’ failing. Are you certain it was her failure or your failure to provide her information?”
Ms Scaffidi said she believed she had verbally told Ms Higgins as she was in the next office, adding that she had encouraged her to seek confirmation of the trip’s value.
“I don’t know why she didn’t put it on the (gift) register – yes, the outstanding element (the value) may have delayed her,” she said.
Mr Leigh suggested the Lord Mayor had “blithely ignored” warnings, including from former chief executive Frank Edwards, about her annual returns and declarations.
The Lord Mayor said she was “extremely sorry”, but noted that the “foolproof” systems now in place were not there at the time, and in an “extremely busy role” she had made honest mistakes.
On the witness stand Mr Butler was asked by Mr Penglis about what training or information he had received when he became an elected member of Perth Council in 2003, beginning his 12-year tenure in office.
Once on the stand, Ms Thatcher warned that Mr Butler should be made aware of his right to not incriminate himself with his answers.
Justice Jeremy Curthoys – heading the three-person panel – told Mr Butler anything he said was being recorded and could be used in future proceedings against him.
“I think I’m safe,” Mr Butler replied.
Mr Butler said he had received a box of information, including the Local Government Act, but “very little” specific information about gift and third party travel contribution declarations.
In regards to a Malaysia trip Mr Butler took as Deputy Lord Mayor of Perth – which was not declared, despite being paid for by a third party – Mr Butler said he saw it as an official duty, and that the matter had been planned through the City’s administration, so he hadn’t seen the need to.
The defence submitted a statement from City of Perth staffer Paul Anastas as a character reference for the Lord Mayor.
Ms Thatcher contested whether it met the standard of a character reference for the Tribunal’s purposes – but in closing Justice Curthoys said it would be considered next Wednesday, June 21.
“We will endeavour to resolve the matter as soon as possible,” he said before adjourning the matter for the day.
— Guardian Express (@Guardian_Ex) June 14, 2017