Eye on council activities

Local Government Minister Tony Simpson addresses the media.
Local Government Minister Tony Simpson addresses the media.

LOCAL Government Minister Tony Simpson is keen to extend the powers of the Office of the Auditor General to cover local government.

Mr Simpson said since the failed amalgamation process, which he said was designed to improve transparency and accountability within local government, reform was more than lines on maps.

“We have been working on a broader agenda to look at the financial sustainability and capacity of the sector,” Mr Simpson said.

He said when the Barnett government first came to office it noticed that local government mostly operated on an annual budget cycle and there was very little long-term strategic planning.

“Today there is a greater understanding of the financial capacity and sustainability of local governments thanks to reforms implemented by this government,” he said.

But Mr Simpson said there was still more to do.

“I have spoken about my intention to extend the powers of the office of the Auditor General to include local government and it is an obvious next step to extend the powers of the office of the Auditor General to include the auditing of local governments, so there will be a uniform approach taken to auditing, enable council performances to be compared and ensure ratepayers have a greater understanding of the financial sustainability and performance of their council,” he said.

Kalamunda Shire President Andrew Waddell said he took umbrage at the “lack of long-term strategic planning” suggestion.

He said it was incredibly difficult to plan long term when a council was fighting for survival.

“If the State Government keeps moving the goal posts then we have to sheet that blame straight back at the government, but I would have to say this council is committed to transparency and openness and intends to move more motions on these policies in early 2016,” he said.

“We want to improve transparency and good governance as much as we can.”

It is believed the government’s new stand has been triggered by the inquiry into Perth Lord Mayor Lisa Scaffidi.

On October 5, the Corruption and Crime Commission announced its Report on an Investigation into Acceptance and Disclosure of Gifts and Travel Contributions by the Lord Mayor.

The CCC said Ms Scaffidi had significantly failed in her duties as Lord Mayor by not disclosing gifts and contributions to travel in her annual return.

“The commission has formed opinions of serious misconduct relating to … failure to disclose a hospitality package to the 2008 Beijing Olympics and tickets to the 2009 Leeuwin Concert accepted from BHP Billiton, and a gift of accommodation in Broome for the 2008 Broome Cup accepted from Hawaiian Investments Pty Ltd,’’ the report said.