DECLAN CLAUSEN: Expenses outcry just more ‘lazy politics’

A lie travels the globe while the truth is putting on its shoes, as the old saying goes.It is time that the truth caught up with the councillor expensesdebate.

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Liberal Councillor Lisa Tierney recently made a dramatic resignation from council alleging that reports of councillors bullying staff were not being investigated. Council’s CEO has since confirmed that no allegations had been made by staff. In fact, the Lord Mayor was applauded by Council staff at a recent workforce meeting for her handling of the proposed amalgamation with Port Stephens.

Liberal councillors also took aim at the Lord Mayor’s use of a childcare allowance while representing our City at an event. An award for gross hypocrisy must go to former councillor Tierney who used more than three times the mayor’s amount for childcare, despite only attending 60per cent of council meetings.

Rather than champion women in local government, Cr Tierney was happy to bill ratepayers almost $800 for childcare and then let her conservative colleague’s deride the Lord Mayor for using far less.

In NSW the average Councillor is a white man in his 60s. Sadly, only 27 per centof councillors, and 16 per centof senior council staff are women. Councils work best when they reflect their communities, which is why a childcare policy was introduced some years ago to help encourage working parents stand for election, and is accessible to both mums and dads.

Liberal councillor Brad Luke is a frequent critic of councillor expenses, particularly for overseas travel. Despite this, Cr Luke has been one of the largest users of travel entitlements, charging ratepayers a $5,790 for his trips. Cr Luke also had the largest expenses bill of any ward Councillor during this term running up an expenses tab of almost $23,000.

But it is easy politics for the Liberals to bag out politicians travelling overseas for their work, and ignore the tangible benefits that come as a result of this travel.

In 2015 Lord Mayor Nuatali Nelmes travelled with the Vice-Chancellor at short notice to Geneva for a twoday trip.

This trip was required to secure a unique three-party deal with the United Nations to establish a dedicated research centre in Newcastle; bringing jobs and investment to our city.

This UN research centre focuses on disaster recovery in the Asia Pacific region, and has led to a number of recent delegations from Pacific Island nations coming to Newcastle to meet with researchers.

While in town these delegations stay in local hotels, eat at local restaurants and contribute to the local economy. They build our research reputation, and help to develop the Hunter’s future ‘smart’ economy. Despite the rhetoric, the benefits of this twoday trip far outweigh the minor cost to the council.

It is lazy politics for Liberal councillors to huff and puff about expenses, while ignoring the real benefits of having active and engaged councillors, and showing no hesitation in claiming those expenses themselves.

Under Lord Mayor Nuatali Nelmes the council has the strongest budget position it has had in years, which has been achieved while doubling investment in local infrastructure and without closing any services.

If the Liberal councillors had a vision for our city they would be out sharing it with the community. Unfortunately all they have is smear and double standards.

Declan Clausen is Labor Councillor on Newcastle City Council.