Failed bid to end booze ban

BOOZE on the ratepayers’ tab was nearly back on the menu at Mornington Peninsula Shire when councillors considered revising their councillor expenses policy.

A bid by Cr Hugh Fraser to reintroduce alcoholic drinks for councillors after meetings was not supported by fellow councillors.

“In so far as the consumption of alcohol is concerned, that [should be] permitted after council meetings — not before council meetings and not during council meetings,” Cr Fraser said at the 27 February meeting.

Councillors in August voted to stop filling up council liquor cabinets at ratepayers’ expense.

Other councillors voiced discomfort at reintroducing ratepayer-funded booze which cost about $27,000 over four years during the previous council term.

“I do like my glass of champagne every now and again but I’m happy to wait until after council meetings or in a social context to actually go out there and purchase my own,” Cr Antonelli Celi said.

“This money that we save on alcohol we can actually divert to other meaningful community projects.”

Cr Sam Hearn also came out against ratepayers picking up the tab for councillors’ drinks.

“I really enjoy a beer with friends … but I know many people have negative alcohol-related experiences,” he said.

Cr Hearn said “it is the responsible thing to do” to not have the community pay for alcohol.

There is no alcohol ban on council premises so councillors will be able to bring their own beverages on site for post-meeting tipples.

Councillors, elected in November, also agreed to their expenses being published on the shire’s website each month during the current four-year council term.

The move to increase transparency around councillor spending comes after it was revealed 11 shire councillors during the 2012-16 council term collectively spent about $480,000 over three years (“Shire’s councillors costly”, The News 14/11/16).

Neighbouring Frankston and Kingston councils – with nine councillors each – spent $205,329 and $101,807 respectively over the same period.

Councillors can claim out of pocket expenses for travel, child care, “information and communication” and training and conference attendance fees.

The new policy tightens up oversight of councillors’ expenses. Chief financial officer Matthew Green and governance manager Joe Spiteri will sign off on any expense claim that exceeds $2000.

At last month’s public council meeting councillors decided to cap training, conferences and seminars expenses at $16,000 a councillor over four years.

All councillors, with the exception of Cr David Gill, voted to adopt the new expenses policy.

Cr Gill believed overseas trips should not be included as a claimable expense for councillors.

First published in the Mornington News – 14 March 2017