Wednesday 15 November 2017
Hansard of the Legislative Council

Mr FINCH (Rosevears) - Mr Deputy President, the aim of course must be to return democracy to the Glenorchy City Council and to give back the voice to the Glenorchy community.  When reviewing this bill several areas of consideration are worthy of deeper discussion:  government arrangements of a public entity; denial of natural justice, which we have heard a lot about; community interest and democracy; the appropriate outcome; and timing.

It is important when looking at these areas that we acknowledge that the process to arrive at this bill has been what can only be described as tumultuous for the people of Glenorchy.  The outcome, if passed, will be that the community will have its voice returned.

The ultimate outcome that everyone is aiming to achieve is the return of democracy for this local government council.  The questions that need to be asked are:  Is now the appropriate time for that return?  Will the underlying issues be able to be resolved by the return? 

The minister for Local Government placed the council under suspension on 8 February this year and appointed the commissioner to administer the council until the board of inquiry, ongoing since 14 October 2015, could be concluded.  Sue Smith, a former mayor and former president of the Legislative Council:  did she say she is a life member of LGAT?

Mr Gaffney - Yes.

Mr FINCH - The president of LGAT as well.  Great credentials, and from all accounts she has done a very good and respectable job at providing stability for the staff at the council.  An important area of consideration, because the staff were despondent, negative, in a world of uncertainty, and if what she said can be trusted, that has been turned around.

Irrespective of her placement as commissioner, the issues at the council appear to have been deeply rooted in a group of aldermen not willing to acknowledge the maladministration of the council.

While the board of inquiry remains in draft and is yet to be released, indications of the governance arrangement for the Glenorchy City Council can be found in the recent Auditor‑General's report on the procurement practices of the council.  He concluded and I quote from his media release, dated 17 October 2017 -

… the process adopted in expending $1 051 909 lacked transparency, independent review, reporting and good governance. … In failing to comply with the Act and its own procurement codes, Council did not adequately test the market.  Council failed to meet its procurement principles of open and effective
competition, value or value for money and enhancement of the capabilities of local business and industry.

There was evidence to indicate an intentional splitting of procurement from a single procurement activity into two or more separate contracts/projects for the purpose of avoiding the requirement to publicly invite tenders.

Council failed to adequately document its assessment and decision not to follow its quotation process or seek tenders.

Mr Dean - Splitting of those issues is not unusual provided it is done legally.  Other councils have done it but they have done it legally in testing of that splitting contracts.

Mr FINCH - Yes.  I also note Glenorchy at the time had a tender threshold of around $100 000.  The expenditure for CT Management was 10 times that amount, yet the council failed to go to tender.  This, however, was by no mistake.  The issue to go to tender had been pointed out to both the management and aldermen by several alderman in council meetings and yet they continued to deny any failing.

We are yet to see the board of inquiry report.  However, insight by the Auditor-General clearly indicates the level of failing of a poorly constructed council.  Irrespective of the good effort of a commissioner, it is the mix of aldermen on the council that contributed to this failing and it is only an election that can resolve the problem.

Four aldermen have already indicated they will not be standing again.  We have heard seven resigned recently to save being sacked.  I am not sure how many of those will return.  With the four aldermen indicating they will not be coming again, this provides significant opportunity to reconstruct a council with appropriate skill and knowledge to resolve some of these poor governance arrangements.  An election will allow this to be resolved.

There are clear indications some of the issues go deeper than the aldermanic body.  That is the general manager and director of corporate governance and general counsel are on indefinite leave.  It is important to note it is the elected body's responsibility to manage the general manger and a newly formed and differently configured elected body will be able to improve on their ability to manage the general manager of the council.

There have been ongoing claims of the denial of natural justice through the board of inquiry process.  Branch-Allen v Easther found natural justice had not been denied, only there was a risk that it could.
Following this outcome, the board of inquiry - BOI - has gone to significant lengths to ensure there would be no denial of natural justice to those who had concerns.

This has resulted in a significantly delayed process that it could be argued has placed the community at disadvantage due to not knowing the outcome of the report.

As mentioned in introducing the key areas of consideration, the inquiry began on 14 October 2015.  Today, 15 November 2017, it is some 763 days since the process began.  Over that time there have been several legal attempts to delay or thwart the BOI report on the basis of a denial of natural justice.

Most recently, the general manager launched an attempt to thwart the BOI on the basis of denial of natural justice which was initially found it not to have merit.  Subsequently in an appeal by the GM, the Full Bench of the Supreme Court again found it had no basis and the outcome was released by the Supreme Court today.

It appears the BOI has been adhering to the principles of natural justice, while those seeking to delay the process have taken a litigious strategy. This frustrated all those wishing firstly to understand what has occurred and others who are wanting the report released to finally show they had understood their role and carried it out appropriately.

This has both political and professional impacts on some of these individuals.  It is now their rights to natural justice that have been impinged.  This bill will allow this process to conclude and all parties to be afforded justice.

To emphasise its importance, I will repeat one of my earlier lines.  The process to arrive at this bill has been tumultuous for the people of Glenorchy, but the outcome, if passed, will be that the community will have their voice returned.

While noting it is clear there is a need to ensure natural justice is served, there is a mechanism to address the ongoing governance concerns and an election is what everyone is looking to achieve.

I have indicated I am satisfied natural justice principles will be adhered to and governance arrangements can be resolved with a newly constructed elected body.  It then is appropriate to hold an election.

Now, the timing of the election.  Holding an election in January is not necessarily, in ordinary circumstances, the most suitable timing.  However, when considering some contributing factors, it appears to be the most appropriate outcome.  Considering timing, we need to understand the impact of holding an election before or after a state election, which is going to be held in March next year.

Holding it after the election will mean the elected body cannot engage with parties to assist in forming policy positions.  Holding it prior will allow this to occur.

However the closer to March the Glenorchy election is held, the more confused the environment will be for electors and difficult to develop appropriately informed policy due to the time constraints.

The timing is, in essence, to be the furthest away from the March election.  It is logistically possible, given the need to provide residents with postal ballot papers and to adhere to time lines with conducting an appropriate election.

Mr Deputy President, I support the bill.