POLICY: Councillors have expressed concern over wording of a new Code of Conduct policy.
POLICY: Councillors have expressed concern over wording of a new Code of Conduct policy. Mike Richards GLA190815COUN

Policy wording hits councillors' tender spot

HAVING a potential tenderer for council work court a Gladstone region councillor "in aisle three in front of the baked beans" may sound ridiculous but it became a cause for concern at last week's Gladstone Regional Council meeting.

The fallout from the Crime and Corruption Commission's Operation Belcarra shows no signs of abating and its tentacles are starting to affect decision making at council, if its recent meeting is any indication.

Operation Belcarra came about following the 2016 local government elections where a number of south-east Queensland councils received CCC complaints - many of them relating to developer donations.

Legislation - Local Government Electoral (Implementing Stage 1 of Belcarra) and Other Legislation Amendment Act 2018 - was developed in response to this and passed parliament on May 17.

As a result, new legislative amendments to the Local Government Act 2009 and Local Government Regulation 2012 became effective from December 3, meaning GRC had to adopt recommended guidelines at its December 4 meeting.

Nine recommendations were tabled and, after complicated discussions that lasted over an hour, councillors voted 5-4 in favour of eight of the nine recommendations but couldn't come to an agreement on adopting item eight - Councillor Interaction Protocol Policy - Lobbyists, Developers and Tenderers.

 

Queensland's Parliament House in Brisbane.
Queensland's Parliament House in Brisbane. Rae Wilson

A number of councillors expressed confusion and concern regarding what constituted a discussion with potential or current tenderers.

An example used during the meeting referred to a hypothetical talk between a councillor and prospective tenderer to undertake council-related work.

It was suggested councillors would need to take notes or bring a council officer to interactions with community members in order to avoid being caught in a potential conflict of interest trap.

Cr PJ Sobhanian said during the meeting that "most people have common sense" and "people around this (council) table have common sense too" when dealing with any conflicts of interest, while Cr Peter Masters labelled the move as "impractical" and one that could distance councillors from the community.

Former Banana Shire mayor, Cr Glenn Churchill echoed Cr Masters' sentiments.

"We've been put here by our residents and ratepayers and those people have trust and good faith in us to make decisions with integrity and for the betterment of the region," Cr Churchill said.

"I cannot at this particular stage be prepared to accept that I'm going to stop talking to people who have an interest in the future of the region," he said.

"Whether that be in development, progress or other challenges."

Cr Kahn Goodluck had major reservations around the wording of the policy, which refers to councillor "exchanges" and "dealings" with tenderers.

 

WELCOMED HERE: Gladstone Region councillor Kahn Goodluck, member for Gladstone Glenn Butcher and councillor Peter Masters at the area where the new pump track in Boyne Island will be built.
WELCOMED HERE: Gladstone Region councillor Kahn Goodluck, member for Gladstone Glenn Butcher and councillor Peter Masters at the area where the new pump track in Boyne Island will be built. Chris Lees

"In the course of my daily dealings with people, can I get caught up in some ridiculous accusation because the policy was too broad," he asked.

"Let's make the policy wording defined and not broad so someone can take advantage of it because I have no intent to do the wrong thing.

"That to me "exchanges", the way it is written - they happen all the time... I could have old mate try and lobby me in aisle three in front of the baked beans."

Deputy mayor Chris Trevor, a solicitor by profession, backed himself to deal with potential interactions.

"I'm not going to embark upon an expedition of every time I need to speak with a constituent I'm going to haul an officer (along). I don't think there's an expectation that we should do that," Cr Trevor said.

"Invariably, when I'm called upon to ventilate an issue with a constituent 99.9 per cent of the cases are referred to an officer.

"I don't think we need support staff there as corroboration - I think it's overkill and maybe we are getting too paranoid about this."

The council resolved to discuss the wording of item eight at a later date - likely to be early next year.