A number of Greek local government councillors across Melbourne have spoken out strongly against the controversial proposal to ban local government councillors from working for Victorian and Federal members of parliament.
Mayor of Moreland Lambros Tapinos says he is likely to quit his job as an electorate officer if the proposed legislation to ban councillors working for Members of Parliament (MPs) is voted in.
Cr Ange Kenos of Moonee Valley Council and Cr Steven Tsitas of Darebin Council have also indicated their intentions to step down from their roles as electorate officers and remain on council should the legislation proceed.
The proposed laws follow a scathing Victorian Ombudsman report into the misconduct at Brimbank Council, which found that decisions made by Brimbank councillors had been influenced by outsiders, including Labor MPs.
The recommendations by the Victorian Ombudsman that councillors be banned from working as electorate officers, ministerial advisers or parliamentary advisers for state and federal MPs are intended to address this issue.
City of Kingston councillor Steve Staikos and his cousin, Glen Eira councillor Nick Staikos, both said that they would not make any decisions about the future whilst the legislation remained undrafted, and that they were comfortable with the action taken by the Government.
However Cr Steve Staikos, who works as an electorate officer for Tim Holding (Victoria’s Minister for Water, Finance, WorkCover, TAC Tourism and Major Events) said that the Ombudsman recommendations while valid for Brimbank, “do not in any way apply to any council that the Ombudsman hasn’t done the full investigation into.”
The 25-year-old also added that he would be uncomfortable in having to leave council, and would consider falling back on his qualifications as a history teacher as a future option.
Cr Tapinos believes it would be unreasonable to have to forcefully resign from his role as an electorate advisor to MP David Feeney.
“A few people did something wrong in Brimbank and now we are all paying the price,” he said. “I urge the Government to reconsider the proposal; to implement all Brimbank specific recommendations and consult widely because it affects 50 or 60 councillors who have not done anything wrong.”
Tapinos also pointed out that the the proposed legislation will allow one to be an MP and councillor at the same time in Victoria.
Cr Helen Patsikatheodorou of Hume Council, who also works as an electorate officer for Federal MP Maria Vamvakinou, slammed the legislation that will see councillors “turfed out” as “ludicrous” and refuses to make a decision on such “unjust legislation.”
She said that she has been upfront with residents and that her federal member does not interfere with council duties.
By excluding councillors, “you are not going to weed out the bad apples from the good apples,” according to Patsikatheodorou because the proposed laws would not address the problem of undue influence over council. Nor would the potential professional conflicts of interestfor councillors be eliminated.
Cr Ange Kenos, who works as an electorate officer for MP Khalil Eideh of the Western Metropolitan Region. said, “This recommendation is a knee-jerk reaction and it’s not going to solve the problem at all.”
Kenos went on to say: “I know of at least two councillors whose husband or wife works for an MP- the law won’t stop them. So what the government is saying that I’d be banned, but the person who’s husband or wife works for an MP is acceptable?”
Although MP Khalil Eideh’s constituent overlaps Cr Kenos’ Mooney Valley council region, Cr Kenos said that his MP had no undue influence on his council decisions and instead underscored the need for greater councillor and MP accountability.
“Ideally the Government should be talking with us instead of to us so that we can work together to develop a scheme where we report all contacts with MPs, and are far more open about who we do business with in a lot of areas.”
Cr Kenos went on to say that, “Most councillors would be happy to abide by tougher rules, but we also want tougher laws for politicians, because what Mr. Wynne (Victoria’s Local Government minister) is talking about won’t stop politicians from playing their funny games.”
Cr Tapinos proposed an alternative legislation along similar lines.
“If a councillor works for an MP that has been advocating for a particular issue that a councillor is to vote on, they should declare the conflict and not vote on the matter,” he said.
Cr Tapinos added that the average councillor is paid a mere $24,000 a year, which is why those caught up in the legislation would be forced to search for other options.
Cr Kenos aired his concerns at an open council meeting last week, which were shared by other unhappy councillors. He then sent his speech to the Attorney General Rob Hulls, offering to meet to develop stricter council guidelines but has not yet received a Government response.
“And I don’t think I will,” he said disgruntled.
The councillor added that the Attorney General had brought the legislation forward to August but that there were attempts within the ALP to make amendments.
Shadow Minister for Local Government, Jeanette Powell said that whilst the Opposition agreed on the Ombudsman’s report in principle, they were waiting to see what was is in the legislation before deciding to support it.
“The reason we have to go through this path is because the Government have sat on their hands and did not deal appropriate with councillors who had a conflict of interest and didn’t declare it. So now we have some hard working councillors innocent of any wrong doing who are also going to be sacked,” she said.