Clearing up grey areas around costs covered for Wodonga councillors and their partners has been a key motivation behind a revision of the expenses policy, but one councillor believes it’s still “too open to interpretation”.
The new council support and expenses policy was put to vote on Monday with a number of revisions of the 2012 version.
These included the addition of: a more detailed explanation of council duties, the ability of the mayor to be reimbursed for using his or her car for council duties and a clear clause against attendance at political fundraisers being covered by council.
Councillor Kat Bennett said importantly there was a clear cause relating to partners, stating council would not cover the costs of spouses or family members accompanying councillors to events or functions.
“When I was looking through the examples of other Victorian councils’ expenses policies, in looking at how partners are included, it wasn’t clear,” she said.
“Every second week, there’s something in the media about politicians rorting the system and quite often you hear the excuse, ‘I was working within the guidelines’.
“It’s obviously incredibly evident the guidelines need to be tightened up and we had a good opportunity here to get really clear guidelines in terms of how partners fit into the expense policy. I think it’s much clearer now and I’m really happy with this.”
Cr Tim Quilty pointed out under the revised policy council would be recording the expenses claimed by councillors.
“Everything we claim will be recorded in the annual report,” he said.
Cr Ron Mildren agreed the revisions had gone a long way to “tidying up some loose ends”, but said council could have “done better”.
“I don’t expect we as councillors would be doing it, but it leaves too much scope for interpretation,” he said.
“I think things like referring to refreshments – does that mean, if we go to a conference and have a considerable number of beers, it includes those things – I don’t think we’ve covered that adequately enough.”
Cr Mildren voted against both the expenses policy and the supplementary development policy.
While Cr John Watson said it was unfortunate undergraduate students would no longer fall under the definition of those covered for professional development, Cr Mildren said he was “happy” that clause was removed and the policy was still too generous.
“Once the policy is adopted, it locks in an allocation for funds this year which pre-judges any budget deliberations and limits council’s flexibility,” he said.
“It should be allocated on a needs basis.”