Act ‘used’ to attack councillors

A LOCAL Government Department probe has dismissed allegations of impropriety against three Perth City councillors.

The investigation followed complaints to the department that the unnamed councillors had voted on matters that would give them a financial benefit.

Lord Mayor Peter Nattrass claimed some people within the council were using the pecuniary interest provisions of the Local Government Act as a political tool.

A councillor found guilty of breaching these regulations can face a maximum $10,000 fine or two years jail.

Dr Nattrass said he received a letter late last month detailing the Department’s actions.

He said these were the latest of many such investigations of Perth City Councillors.

“The pecuniary interest provisions of the Act are there for very legitimate reasons but when they are used for political reasons it becomes a concern to all councils,” he said.

“Considering this environment, elected members have to interpret the Local Government Act in the strictest possible way.”

Dr Nattrass said a change to the Act that required councillors to declare an interest in an item if it was “adjacent” to their property and could affect its value added to the confusion.

“What does the word ‘adjacent’ mean?” he asked.

The Act gives no definition of “adjacent”. But because of the magnitude of the penalties, the onus is on the department to prove the value of the councillor’s property was, or would have been, changed by the “adjacent” development.

At council’s November 28 meeting Dr Nattrass declared a financial interest in a development application for 24 Mounts Bay Road, Crawley and a report considering the Mounts Bay Road Landscape Enhancement Concept Plan because he owns property at 6-8 Mounts Bay Road. He said both items were “adjacent” to his property.

He said he would not have previously declared an interest in such items.

“With this environment and the ambiguity, it can sometimes inhibit the good function of council,” Dr Nattrass said.

“An item comes up on the Mounts Bay Road Foreshore Plan and I have to declare an interest because 40 yards of the area affected by the plan is in front of my property.

“Yet I’m passionate about the enhancement of the Swan River foreshore.

“Now because of fear and the strictest interpretation of the Act I have to absent the chamber.

“When you have to be that careful it defeats the purpose of the Act.”

Councillor Laurance Goodman said the financial interest rules in the Act were not difficult to work out.

“In some cases councillors are using these rules as a smokescreen to get out of making difficult decisions,” Cr Goodman said.

“Dr Nattrass fails to tell people he has a direct financial interest in 24 Mounts Bay Road because he too has an appeal pending on his Mounts Bay Road property.”

Council refused the development application for 24 Mounts Bay Road. It is believed that decision will be appealed to either Planning Minister Graham Kierath or the Planning Tribunal.

Dr Nattrass applied to redevelop his Mounts Bay Road property earlier this year. Council refused that application and he appealed the decision.

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