In Parliament

Adjournment - Port Phillip City Council


Thursday, 23 April 2020

Mr NEWBURY (Brighton):

My adjournment is for the Minister for Local Government, and the action I seek is for the minister to investigate whether there are systemic issues of entitlement misuse by Greens councillors at the City of Port Phillip.

Almost 50 days ago I raised with the Minister concerns that Greens councillor Ogy Simic had claimed a whopping $17 582 on childcare expenses in the 2018–19 financial year. In total, the other eight Councillors claimed a combined $6655. As yet, the minister has failed to address those concerns.

Freedom of Information documents, initially blocked for release by the council, showed that Cr Simic’s childcare claims were based almost solely on homemade, consecutively numbered invoices produced by an unnamed private babysitter.

The invoices included reimbursement claims for dates after the invoices were produced and double dipping, where babysitting was claimed whilst his child was signed into a Port Phillip Council childcare centre.

After the claims were made, Councillor Simic denied wrongdoing, but refused to explain away any of the inconsistencies. Considering the gravity of the claims, his trite denial is not good enough.

Developments this week only reinforce the need for an investigation. This week, a second Greens Councillor has stepped forward, confirming that he misused his travel entitlements. Deputy Mayor Tim Baxter has admitted that he used his council-funded myki public transport card for personal purposes to the tune of $2802.59.

In identifying the misuse, the deputy major confirmed that he had been using the council card for a long period of time for personal travel. He said:

I feel quite silly for not paying enough attention to the Myki I’d been using (my personal Myki had been languishing at home, waiting for “Council business” that I never remembered to use it for)…

This admitted misuse was not silly, as the councillor claimed.

For clarity, the expenses are equivalent to over 310 daily fares or over 622 hourly fares.

We know that no-one can mistakenly pick up the wrong myki card and tap it 600 times. This misuse was deliberate, calculated and deceitful. The notion that Port Phillip City Council is represented by a deputy mayor of such questionable character is disturbing.

We also know of reports that Greens Councillors Tim Baxter, Katherine Copsey and Ogy Simic were jointly subject to a complaint after failing to recuse themselves from votes relating to matters affecting major Greens party donor Stephen Hill , a disturbing allegation that further calls into question the character of all three councillors.

These incidents confirm the need for urgent intervention and investigation. We have seen dirty behaviour in other Victorian councils, behaviour that has led to the forced appointment of independent monitors.

Very serious allegations have been levelled at Greens Councillors at the City of Port Phillip. It looks dirty and it looks systemic. How many instances must we see before action is taken? The Minister has a duty of care and must not be seen to be sitting on his hands. He must act urgently.