Queanbeyan councillors voted at their April meeting to ask for an investigation into alleged leaks from council sources of “confidential information” to local media.
Ahead of discussion and voting on Queanbeyan’s Long Term Financial Plan, Mayor Tim Overall moved that leakage of council-commissioned financial audit information to members of the local press be referred to the NSW Office of Local Government for investigation.
“The public release of material or information disclosed at a councillor workshop contravenes Council’s Code of Meeting Practice and by inference, may then constitute a breach of the Code of Conduct,” stated the mayoral minute
A particular audit report, undertaken by local government expert Professor Percy Allen, raised questions about council’s financial performance in regard to setting aside funds for future infrastructure maintenance (asset renewal) and discussed various options for rate increases and service cuts.
The report in question had however been the subject of a late March public presentation organised by council, featuring Professor Allen. April stories in local Fairfax media including the Queanbeyan Age and the Canberra Times as well as the District Bulletin were offered as evidence of an alleged code of conduct breach. A budget working paper was also referenced.
As reported by the Bulletin in April in the context of proposed amalgamation of Queanbeyan with Palerang, the audit analysed that Palerang standing alone was marginally financially sustainable but was looking at a very high future infrastructure backlog.
(Looking at both councils’ positions under current financial policies) a merger with Queanbeyan looked increasingly unsustainable financially over 10 years. A NSW government rate freeze for merged councils as proposed for four years would call for very large increases in fees and charges eventually to catch up (true throughout NSW).
One of the councillors who voted against the referral to the Office of Local Government, Councillor Brian Brown, said the motion to investigate media leaks was a “strawman”, a distraction, and that a more wide-ranging investigation into the council’s financial policy settings might explain how Queanbeyan ratepayers “got into this mess”.
After a number of bleak scenarios were examined, an “optimal scenario” in the Allen report was finally adopted by council as part of its Long Term Financial Plan
The preferred approach offers a mix of rate, fee, and other revenue increases which council believes will enable Queanbeyan to achieve its benchmark outcomes over a ten year period, with the least impact on ratepayers.
The Long Term Financial Plan will be on public exhibition for 28 days (basically May) and available on Council’s website: www.qcc.nsw.gov.au It is open to submissions and comment before council’s final endorsement.