By KIERAN FINNANE
Is there a risk of a breach of public trust and of actual or perceived conflict of interest when an elected member of council puts themselves forward in an election for another tier of government?
Left: The kind of event (Council for the Ageing birthday) that contributes to candidate Ryan’s profile, says Cr Melky. Photo from our archive.
Councillor Eli Melky raised the matter at last night’s council meeting.
He did so without mentioning Damien Ryan’s name but it was clear that his comments, most of them made by reading from a written statement, were prompted by the Mayor’s preselection as CLP candidate for Araluen.
Cr Melky acknowledged the issue’s relevance for himself as someone involved in party politics. He is the leading NT figure associated with the Australian Country Party, which intends to stand candidates in all seats at the in the next Territory election.
Cr Melky also stood in the last NT elections, as a conservative independent in Braitling (when Dale Wakefield defeated incumbent Chief Minister Adam Giles).
He provided definitions for his key terms: conflict of interest includes obtaining a benefit; a breach of public trust includes conduct inconsistent with the functions of the officer.
As supporting material for his arguments, he provided information about remuneration of members of the Legislative Assembly.
He made the point that councillors, including “the Principal” (the Mayor), develop “a high profile” through the performance of their duties and use of council resources.
This may not be constitute a conflict of interest but gives rise to the risk of one, he argued.
The issue had come up previously, when Mayor Fran Kilgariff contested Legislative Assembly elections for Labor. It was then “widely accepted” that the risk for her was “high”, said Cr Melky.
(At the time, then Alderman Robyn Lambley put a motion seeking that Mayor Kilgariff to withdraw from all public and social engagements, limit her contact with the media and not discuss her candidature while undertaking mayoral duties. It was narrowly defeated. Mrs Lambley was no longer a councillor when she later ran for and won a Legislative Assembly by-election.)
Cr Melky upped the ante by then pointing to the existence of ICAC (anti-corruption) legislation, with a “mandatory obligation to report a conflict of interest”.
To avoid the problem, he suggested that an elected member who was a candidate for another tier of government should avoid the use of public resources other than for strictly council business. Resources include car, phone, office, title and more, he said.
The person should also manage their activities in such a way as to avoid impacting on council quorum.
Cr Melky avoided putting the matter to a vote by again citing the ICAC legislation: “I do not seek a formal resolution as it is mandatory,” he said.
Other councillors showed little appetite to discuss the matter, except for Cr Glen Auricht.
“I vote Liberal, does that mean I can’t be part of discussions?” he asked. “Other people are affiliated with parties”, naming Crs Jamie de Brenni, CLP vice president, and Jacinta Price, past CLP candidate.
“This is like a hobnailed boot and I don’t like it!” he declared.
By KIERAN FINNANE