Cr Mayne

Governance transcripts from Manningham

January 7, 2014

Here are some audio files and transcripts from public council meetings in Manningham where Stephen Mayne took a position on governance or disclosure.

Better disclosure of allowances and expenses

Manningham City Council meeting on Tuesday, October 27, 2009.

Listen to audio and read transcript:

Cr Stephen Mayne: This resolution deals with the allowances and support facilities that us elected officials of Manningham are entitled to under the state government's Local Government Act.

It lays down in excruciating detail all of the different things from Cabcharges to support for the Mayor's wife, to attendances at conferences, child care claims, be careful about receiving any gift worth more than $200 - you've got to declare it. The council or the rate payers won't support you attending any partisan political functions.

So I think it is important that a council has such a policy, that we refresh and update it, reflecting the changes from the state government and any changes we make in our own policies.

Clearly the state government over the last couple of years has beefed up the resourcing of councillors. Mandating things such as laptops and the council area for office facilities and Blackberries. I'd have to say after 10 months serving, I think that the resourcing and the facilities has been quite good. We are all slaving away at about $10 an hour given the hours that we do on our relatively modest stipend, but it is good to have these rules in place.

I think I'll pick up on councillor Chua's excellent two words from the last discussion on the procurement policy about "accountability and transparency". I think these are tremendous things that as a council we should engage with. On something such as the Councillor Allowance and Support Policy, I would be foreshadowing tonight, strongly advocating amongst fellow councillors, that we be as transparent and open as possible about all of our expense claims, or attendance at conferences, or taxi charges or claims on child care or anything else.

At the end of the day sunlight is the best disinfectant for expenses and entitlements of elected officials. I'm sure the British political class wishes, in hindsight, they had adopted such an approach before claiming for their private moats.

I would advocate that we embrace this updated policy as a council, and also maybe be a bit more aggressive in going another couple of steps forward putting as much as this information as we possibly can on the council website for the community to appropriately scrutinise all of our claims and expenses.

And then we can explain how hard we are working, and how many conferences we are attending and how diligent we are in moving around the community, seeking the maximum information to provide the best representation to the residents of Manningham.

Arguing for lower ward grants

Manningham City Council meeting held on June 29, 2010

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Cr Stephen Mayne: the most important proposed change as a result of the review is to clip the budget of the ward allocation facilities or programs that individual councillors or groups of councillors from a certain ward can dish out to particular community groups.

At the moment the budget is $150,000 and the proposal is to reduce that by $45,000 over two years to get that down, eventually, to $60,000 in total out of a total grants pool of $730,000.

Now the reason this particular recommendation was put forward is that we are proposing to take the governance high road. At the moment, I must admit as a new councillor, I was surprised that with very little rigor, I could simply dish out $4000 to my favorite kindergarten, or my favorite tennis club or my favorite anything.

There was no particular independence or rigor to this. It was very very spur of the moment, I could just get together with my ward colleagues, we all have to agree admittedly - so you just can't do it as a single councillor, but I felt this was a system that was open, potentially, to political abuse. That it could become a slush fund where you could give money to particular groups who might help you or give you some kind of favour.

At a governance level I was uncomfortable with this, and I was therefore very pleased to read the report pointing out the governance downside of what we are doing, and pointing out that Manningham is indeed, well out of step with other councils in the Eastern region.

The seven councils in the Eastern region - two of them don't have a ward grants program at all, and another three of of them have a program that has a total of between $10,000 and $21,000.

You compare that to our $150,000 a year and we are out of step.

Now there has been Auditor-General reports recommending against this particular practice for lacking rigor, and more importantly there has been two Ombudsman reports, most notably into Brimbank and into Casey. These have been particularly scathing about this idea of individual councillors just being able to dole out grants. The lack of rigor, the poor governance associated with this.

So under the proposal there will be, still, a too large a figure going towards ward grants, but we are taking a step in the right direction, and more of the money will be going into other programs where we have officers making decisions, where we have proper committee meetings. Councillors will be involved in oversight, there will be some community members involved in oversight, but it won't be a system where a large percentage of the money dished out can just be particular decisions taken by particular councillors without any particularly transparent process.

I'm very pleased to see that our officers have taken the governance high road, are taking us in the right direction, and have taken note of Ombudsman's reports about ordinary practices at places like Brimbank and are recommending that we do something that will be more transparent, that will have more rigor, and the community can have more confidence in the way that public monies are administered and dished out in grants to particular community groups in Manningham.

Supporting the banning of political staffers from being councillors

Manningham City Council meeting held on September 29, 2009

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Cr Stephen Mayne: I think Brimbank was a debacle, and while this is draconian, at some levels I completely disagree with the idea of hand picking a certain community group or employee group and saying you can't join councils. I think that party politics doesn't work that well at local government level.

In effect, that this will, I believe, have an overall positive improvement on the way that council's operate. If you look at the way Brimbank was run and the branch stacking - it was a disgrace. I think it was an appropriate response to a governance fiasco.

I would be interested in hearing from the mayor as to how he has dealt with these changes because I don't think there is anyone else on Manningham council who has been as directly affected as the mayor, as our leader, and I think in the interests of transparency, it would be good to have your situation on the record.

Supporting MAV's code of conduct for Manningham

Manningham City Council meeting held on November 24, 2009

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Cr Stephen Mayne: I think it is a good thing that councils have codes of conduct. I think it is a good thing that individual councils develop any particular codes of conduct or particular items that they may think are particularly relevant to them, and that is the process that we will go through in the months ahead. For now, we are adopting the MAV template, which I think is a document that all of us should read and that should guide and govern many of our actions in terms of how we conduct ourselves and perform our duties as councillors.

I won't go through too many of the particular items, but there's one I would quote that talks about councillors acting as a representative government by taking into account the diverse needs of the local community in decision making.

Another one is maintaining the viability of the council by ensuring the resources are managed in a responsible and accountable manner.

Fostering community cohesion and encouraging active participation in civic life. Many of these things might sound like motherhood, but I think its important to have them.

I think it is ironic that we're debating this particular proposal a day or two the state government proposed a substantial overhaul and review of their own anti-corruption and accountability mechanisms. I do believe that the MAV guidelines here are actually a fair bit stronger then what may apply in form of a code of conduct to the state government and the second tier of government. That may be so, but I think it is still an appropriate thing for the state government to impose on councillors.

Tonight we should support the MAV template version, be guided by it, and obviously work collaboratively together as a group of councillors in developing our own particular code of conduct in the coming months ahead.

Motion supporting disclosure of political donations

Manningham City Council meeting held on February 2, 2010

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Cr Stephen Mayne: All this motion does is propose that the documents that we have already filed as councillors, our campaign donation returns, which are public documents, simply be public on our website. It is a small simple thing, and as part the transparency agenda, I think all of that ought to be looked at by the council as a whole through a process comprehensively.

This is just little piece of low hanging transparency fruit. Where the documents are already there, you can just go up on the web, and I think it is great time to do it given that yesterday was donation disclosure day. Every parliament in the country have to reveal all at once all their donations for the financial year that commenced 19 months earlier.

So it's not very timely. We do have one of the weakest campaign finance disclosure regimes in the world, and our councils are pretty ordinary as well. When you compare it to how we do with our performance reports and our capital works reports, we're incredibly transparent. In this area, we are not putting up who funded our campaigns on the web. It is done at state and federal level, the documents are there. I haven't looked at anyone's returns - I don't know what they say, but I feel it would be a good discipline into the future.

I don't know if anyone has ever bothered to look at councillor campaign donation reports. If it's on the website, it's more available and accessible. It's using the technology. So apologies Mr Gough for stepping out of line, but I hope that councillors will agree that this is simple, it's not controversial, it's pretty standard. It doesn't require any cost, the documents are already there.

Just like we very quickly and easily moved to having audio recordings of our council meetings put on the web, which is another good little reform. I think this is just another small step along the path to having, in the spirit of sunlight being the best disinfectant, more disclosure and accountability of our operations. It would be a small reform but it would be a step in the right direction towards good governance at Manningham.

Requesting a report on all councillor expenses

Manningham City Council meeting held on May 25, 2010

Listen to audio and read Transcript:

Cr Stephen Mayne: Like Cr Downie I too am interested in how the rate payers money is being spent. Is it being effectively spent?

I'd like to direct a question to our CFO Rob Spargo and our Director of Corporate Services, Steve Goldsworthy. Gentlemen could you please prepare a one off report to be tabled at the August or September meeting, detailing expenses incurred to council by all of the current 9 councillors, from the period December 2008 after the last council election, through until the end of the 2009/10 financial year.

In the interests of transparency by elected officials, could such a report provide a breakdown by councillor of all expenses incurred by council covering areas such as accommodation, conferences, training, travel, flights, taxis, meals, telephone, computers, stationary, and in the case of the mayoral car - petrol and service costs.

Cr Ivan Reid: I thought his motion, previous request, related to election contributions?

Mayor Pick: but it also related to all costs of councillors from my understanding.

Cr Stephen Mayne: I haven't said anything publicly about expenses...

Mayor Pick: Okay.

Cr Stephen Mayne: ...we've discussed that at SBS, I have had a motion about campaign finance disclosures which was....

Mayor Pick: Okay, thanks for the clarification. You're correct, I'm incorrect.

Pushing for better disclosure of councillor expenses and supporting travel register

Manningham City Council meeting held on June 29, 2010

Listen to audio and read Transcript:

Cr Stephen Mayne: I come to this debate with a philosophy that sunlight is the best disinfectant. Those in elected public positions can do well to have a philosophy of disclose, disclose, disclose. The more information that you can provide to your community to who you are answerable to, the more accountable you are and the more transparent you are.

That said, as someone who, I guess, hails from the media, and has experience with media distortions or beat-ups or misrepresentations of political expenses or political entitlements, I can understand the officers' professional concerns about a designated section on our website.

I sat next to the City of Geelong CEO and one of the councillors on the way back from a conference, and they talked about the fact that they have every six months, they have a specific section on the website with councillor expenses. The discussion continued and I discovered they are currently at war with The Geelong Advertiser over the way reporting of councillor trips is happening.

So I am therefore sympathetic to that particular argument, and therefore keen to promote the far more downgraded or less prominent or less modest disclosure within our very large annual report.

I am pleased that we will be taking a good step forward in our disclosures in terms of a travel register where our website will, in July each year, show the interstate and overseas travel and associated costs by councillors and officers. I will say that it should in no way necessarily be seen as a negative if a particular officer or councillor has accrued a several thousand dollar figure traveling to conferences.

I would say that I have been to hundreds of conferences over the years, have spoken at over 100 conferences over the years, and I know the value that you can get, in a training and networking point of view from attending conferences. So I certainly won't be one to criticise diligent councillors and officers furthering their professional networks and skill bases, attending conferences that are relevant to their particular area of operation, but equally it ought to be disclosed.

You don't want a situation like we had with the Victorian speaker of the upper house, Mr Bob Smith, who was seen to be taking endless jaunts around the world looking at souvenir shops in different parliament houses around the world. That was a rort, frankly, that prospered for a long time because there was no disclosure of those rorts.

You won't see a future speaker indulge themselves to the tune of many many tens of thousands of dollars, on what you would argue is a frivolous piece of research, because those figures in the future are now going to be in the public arena.

Public disclosure does discipline and contain excesses by elected officials, officers and anyone else in any society and I think, therefore, we are taking some good steps forward with these proposals and I commend the officers for them, and I think it is a sensible middle ground and we should support the officers report.

Pushing hard for better disclosure of councillor expenses

Manningham City Council meeting held on July 27, 2010

Listen to audio and read Transcript:

Cr Stephen Mayne: It is a sensible, a little bit conservatively written report endorsing somewhat of the status quo, of a relatively poor level of disclosure at Manningham about the expenses incurred by elected officials, but I also do note that the report does take some governance steps forward, particularly in the recommendations of the travel register, which is an improvement in disclosure of expenses incurred and it will cover both councillors and officers, and I know this is a practice that is done by a number of other councils across Victoria.

In terms of item C in the officers recommendations, no action be taken to publish the register of campaign donation returns on the website. I certainly accept the privacy argument, I think that we could very comfortably publish a summary which simply says "Total donations declared 'X'". I don't think that would be particularly hard, but then again, that is a public document which can be searched - comfortably and easily, at the request of a constituent or resident.

On the question of councillor expenses, it's not quite so easy. You would have to do an FOI which would be a bit of a fishing expedition, and then you would have to decide whether you will ask particular councillors, and are you going to ask for particular travel and are you going to cover baby sitters and phones and meals and taxis and as someone who has worked with FOI a bit over the years, it is not a system of institutionalised disclosure with good clarity.

So I therefore strongly reject the officer recommendation of the do nothing approach when it comes to declaring councillor expenses. However, my position is somewhat different from a disclose everything and break down approach. I think each year we should simply disclose the salary pay of the elected officials of this council, and the total expenses incurred - nothing more, nothing less. A very minimalist and simple disclosure which would provide accountability per councillor.

Not some wish-washy global figure, all nine councillors, a relatively meaningless figure in terms of individual residents, in individual wards who want to know how hard their individual councillors are working, and for that reason I strongly reject the foreshadowed alternative motion by councillor Gough, and will be supporting something that goes that small, modest next step, which is simply disclosed as - salary, total expenses, total amount.

No mentions of budget because we can always change the budget. Let's not talk about budget. Let's just tell the people who vote for us what we cost them - it's very simple.

Politicians in Britain suffered a massive and unprecedented hit to their collective reputation because their system of expense disclosure remained in the dark, and in the dark, people rorted. If there had been a simple system which said even just the total amount of claims, what is it each year, you wouldn't have had that rorting.

I find it remarkable that there are elected councillors here, who having read the press reports of that, are rejecting....

Mayor Pick: Councillor Mayne. Please, don't talk about individual councillors. Play the issue, not the man.

Cr Stephen Mayne: Surely, as a group of elected councillors we can disclose the modest $10,000 a year of expenses we incur - no one is going to begrudge it. The hardest working councillors will probably have the biggest expense claim,. You are not going to get beaten up just because you've gone to $12,000 one year, people want to see their councillors claiming and working hard for their community, but as soon as you say you want to keep it in the dark, it simply fuels community rumour, when sunlight clearly is the best disinfectant. I really hope that as a group of councillors we can see the importance of sunlight and give a councillor breakdown of the global expenses figure in the annual report, not even on its own section of the website, just in the annual report of which we print about 100, and the readership would probably be around 21 at best.

Sledging Federal Liberals for blocking disclosure reform

Manningham City Council meeting held on July 27, 2010

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Cr Stephen Mayne: Australia has the weakest system of campaign finance in the world courtesy of the Liberal Party voting down senator John Faulkner's proposed improvements in disclosure of political donations. Surely we can accept the principle that as elected officials in a democracy, modest disclosure of our expenses is meaningful to the community and ensures a level of accountability, and provides a level of discipline to avoid a level of abuse and excess.

Would Councillor Gough accept a modest amendment to his proposal which is as follows. Commencing with 2010/11 financial year, the council's annual report includes details of mayoral and councillor allowances, together with a figure for the expenses of individual councillors against a budget allocation, and then council will publish it's travel register.

Cr Gough:
Yep. I accept that.

Cr Ivan Reid: I don't.