Councillors rack up big bills to attend meetings and conferences

Councillors rack up big bills to attend meetings and conferences
Brendan Rees

Ratepayers will foot a bill for almost $100,000 to cover City of Melbourne councillor expenses including local travel, conferences, and mobile phone internet costs.

The claimed expenses ($93,455), including a total of $52,575 in travel costs, were for the year to June 30, which was on top of allowances given to all councillors.

Lord Mayor Sally Capp had the most claims of any councillor – $32,451 including $29,088 in travel bills to cover transport like taxis and private vehicle use, as well as parking fees to get to meetings, conferences, and other commitments, which can be within and outside the municipality.

Next was Cr Roshena Campbell who racked up $23,435 in expenses, including $9213 to attend conferences, functions, and training days (separate to travel costs), as well as $12,949 for carer expenses.

Deputy Lord Mayor Nicholas claimed a total of $16,946 with $15,013 in travel costs.

The Lord Mayor also gets an annual allowance of $248,941, while Cr Reece receives $124,470.

Council Watch president Dean Hurlston slammed the behaviour of councillors for their excessive travel bills.

“The travel expenses for Cr Capp and Cr Reece just don’t pass the pub test,” he said.

“Have they not heard of public transport? Are they flying all over Australia? If so, why? Isn’t this local council not state government? Cr Capp and Cr Reece are playing Melburnians for fools.”

The expenses, which were published in the council’s annual report, also detailed the councillors’ attendance at the Future Melbourne Committee (FMC) meetings over the course of the year. Of the 21 meetings held, Cr Jason Chang, Cr Campbell, and Cr Philip Le Liu went to a total of only 12, 13, and 15 respectively.

Councillors make important decisions at FMC meetings including planning proposals, city transport, heritage issues, local economy and more.

However, Cr Campbell, who contested and lost the eastern suburbs federal seat of Aston on April 1 as a Liberal candidate, was on unpaid leave from February 22 to April 1.

Meanwhile, the council has approved Cr Le Liu to fly to China to participate in the Australian China Youth Dialogue (ACYD) and other meetings with officials, including a visit to Thailand from November 11 to 28 at a cost of $6000. Other costs will be jointly covered by the ACYD and personally by Cr Le Liu.

According to a council report published in October, Cr Le Liu’s participation at the ACYD “will provide a valuable opportunity to establish connections and foster relations on behalf of the City of Melbourne” and “provide an opportunity to advance Melbourne as a preferred destination for economic investment, international tourism and education”.

Cr Le Liu’s Thailand visit will be in preparation of Melbourne and the Prime Minister hosting leaders from southeast Asia’s ASEAN bloc in March 2024 for a special summit to commemorate 50 years of relations with Australia.

His trip follows Cr Reece’s travel to China in April to participate in a business delegation led by the Australia China Business Council, which cost $15,900. In March, Cr Kevin Louey travelled to the Philippines, stinging ratepayers $6880.

International trips did not include councillor expenses for the year.

The total claim of councillors’ expenses would be the equivalent of providing about 9000 meals to help charities feed people doing it tough. •

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