Councillor's expenses secret
EMBARRASSMENT over mileage claims has emerged as a major reason for Tweed Shire councillors wanting to keep their individual expenses claims secret.
Tweed mayor Warren Polglase revealed yesterday councillors who lived different distances from the Murwillumbah council chambers had been concerned mileage claims were blowing out the expenses of some councillors compared to others.
He said they feared the media would not explain the difference in mileage claims if expenses details were made public.
The council’s corporate services Troy Green confirmed that councillors do claim mileage for driving from their homes to the council offices.
It is an expense not afforded to most other employees driving to - or from - work by either bosses or the Australian Taxation Office.
“It is difficult to compare apples with oranges,” said Mr Green in defence of the councillors’ decision.
“If a committee meeting was held at Tweed Heads for example and two councillors travelled there, one (hypothetically) from say, Pottsville, and one from Banora, the one from Pottsville would, of course, have a greater claim. They would also give up the greatest amount of their own personal time at no remuneration to get to the meeting.
“The travel claim is to reimburse petrol and wear and tear on personal vehicles, nothing more.”
On Tuesday councillors went behind closed doors to secretly discuss and then vote down a call from Greens Party councillor Katie Milne to publish an individual breakdown of councillor expenses.
The decision came despite a number of councillors publicly declaring they had “no problems” with making their individual expenses known following a claim by Cr Kevin Skinner that some expenses were “exorbitant”. However such a breakdown, along with the number of meetings and official functions attended was published in the council’s annual report during the former elected council between 1999-2004.
Cr Polglase who was mayor for more than two years during the former council but voted to keep individual expenses secret on Tuesday said yesterday he had “no trouble” with making them public but had accepted “there are a few others that do”.
He said no councillors were making excessive claims and added “some councillors are travelling a long way and get reimbursed for it.”
“What happens from your industry (the media) is you just heap all the expenses together,” he said.
“But that’s the reason for the imbalance. That’s the main issue. There’s no issue besides that.”
The 2004-2005 public inquiry into the council by Prof Maurice Daly criticised secrecy and found “too many issues have been pushed into closed sessions without sufficient cause.”