KAREN WHEATLAND is a Melville councillor. Following the furore over the 50-years lease for the Melville Bowling Club, she ponders about conflicts of interest -but stresses this is her own opinion and isn’t a position of the council.
THERE’S a lot of discussion in the public arena over gifts, and conflicts of interest and its certainly got me thinking allowed about the varying levels of understanding and application of this issue.
The City of Perth Inquiry Report brings the issue to the forefront of local government and to the communities within WA.
It’s a precarious line we walk in local government, which is why it pays to be informed and aware of our actions, as well as our associations, to ensure our decision making is not affected.
When I was first elected it was something, I had to remind myself of and received advice from my sister, Robyn who is a lawyer, to over-declare and accept nothing.
Now something to ponder. How can we, as elected members, honestly and without bias, judge our own levels of conflicts.
I mean if there is a level of conflict that exists whether it be a direct/indirect financial interest, a proximity, or impartiality for ourselves to judge it unbiasedly, is an interesting concept to consider.
For if an individual is close to something, then they may not see it clearly as a conflict or they have a view that is skewed to the interest causing the conflict.
Let’s step back a little and look at this issue in the context of sport.
In this environment it’s generally the rule that you can’t coach your own children or be involved in any decision making where your child or closely associated family members are involved.
This is a golden rule that protects all parties in this instance and when this rule is not applied, there is often, dissent from some parties.
The parents on the sideline watching the games are often the ones that see firsthand conflicts of interest when they arise, and it’s usually dealt with via gossip, via kids leaving sport, or moving clubs, also by way of unacceptable sideline behaviour and generally there is no way to deal with this when it occurs, aside from damage control.
There are notable exceptions to this, when you have a high level coach and talented siblings, who are both on the high performance pathways and the opinion is that there is no preferential treatment in these cases, and its usual to see the athlete having to work twice as hard to prove this.
Governance in sport is different to local government and sometimes the rules are blurred all too often, which is why conflicts of interest needs to be adhered to more prominently in the sporting arena.
Now back to local government.
The City of Perth mayoral race is highlighting the subjective issue of electorall gifts.
The amount of money donated to some of the candidates is excessive and these gifts are coming from business owners, property developers, associations, corporations, and residents and ratepayers.
The candidates that have received gifts and made their declarations for the electoral donations need to be mindful, if elected, of their requirements to declare this in any potential future decision making.
So, let’s look at the City of Melville’s declarations and conflicts issue.
I declared an interest in the Melville Bowls Club item, when it first came to council as in my 2017 election campaign I was listed in advertising as a preferred candidate for a group called the Alfred Cove Action Group.
I declared this on the electoral register, and from memory it totalled about $200.
I declared an interest under the code and opted to stay, discuss, and vote the item on the agenda.
I considered my situation at length and received advice from the governance team at the City of Melville and sought outside advice on this also. I am comfortable with my decision and I believe that I am not conflicted.
In the 2019 election for the City of Melville, the electoral gifts register lists the donations or gifts received by candidates.
I can’t comment on any of these declarations, or on the issue of whether on not these members should have declared and left or not, for that is not to me to decide.
What I can comment on is the level of hypocrisy that I am witnessing in the decision-making process.
We need to be consistent in our debate and if we are saying, hypothetically, that we need to consult further and wider, to enable the community to be heard, then how can we in the next instance do the opposite?
It appears that currently we are pushing ahead with a decision, on something that has the community in an uproar, because of the lack of consultation and transparency, and people out there are unhappy.
Let’s be consistent with all that we do or, as we are seeing now, people in the community, media and politicians will be asking the question, is this evidence of bias here?
It’s important that we do our best to remain impartial and make decisions that are based on all the information that we are presented with.
It’s not a good thing to go to a meeting with a preconceived decision before the debate has even ensued; it’s not supposed to happen.
I would like to note at the end of this piece that people will always find a connection in matters before us as elected members, and it is up to our own good judgement to make the right decision in relation to this. For if you are perceived to have not declared when you should of, it will come back and bite you. Of that I am sure.