Local Government

24 July 2014

I rise today to discuss a matter to which I attribute incredible importance, and that is the quality of our local councils and our local councillors.

Mr SPEIRS ( Bright ) ( 15:38 :34 ): I rise today to discuss a matter to which I attribute incredible importance, and that is the quality of our local councils and our local councillors. I want to acknowledge mayor Jayne Bates and deputy mayor Peter Clements from the Kangaroo Island Council, who I have just noticed are in the gallery today. I am not doing this speech because they are here, but I think it is good they are here to hear it regardless.

The reason for my grievance speech today has been prompted by an article on page 2 of the Adelaide Advertiser, withthe headline, ‘“Bullying” councillor told to say sorry.’ The story provides a catalyst for me to stand up in this place and put on record some of the concerns I have long held about local councils, and in particular their ability to have their worthwhile agendas and good work hijacked by troublesome, troubled elected members whose own egos and fondness to play games comes as a much higher priority than serving the community they have been elected to represent. I spent just over three years as an elected member of the Marion council, two of those as deputy mayor. It is a council which is well regarded on many fronts. Currently, it holds the title of Australia's most sustainable city, winning that title in the Keep Australia Beautiful awards in November 2013 and winning a prestigious IAP2 community engagement award in September 2013.

This is a council with a strong, aligned leadership. The CEO has been in place for 14 years and the mayor for a similar length of time. It is worth mentioning that the mayor, Dr Felicity-ann Lewis, is the current South Australian of the Year, the president of the Australian Local Government Association and a person I am proud to call a good friend.

There are people who get elected to councils in South Australia and elsewhere for the right reasons, people who believe in their communities and who are working hard to drive change and be part of high quality governance in the areas that they call home, but sadly, Deputy Speaker, this is not always the case and in today's story on page 2 of The Advertiser we see where it can go wrong, with extensive and unfortunate consequences.

On page 2 of The Advertiser we see a situation where a councillor is taken to task by the State Ombudsman for, supposedly, bullying a fellow councillor. Councillor Kathleen Allen, a representative of the Southern Hills Ward in the City of Marion, because of personal reasons chose to take a private car paid for by the council to her new home in Mount Compass. Now, that is by the by. What then happened to her because of making this decision is one of the most disgraceful things I have seen in local government. Her colleague, councillor Hull, chose to take a harassing approach to this situation.

It should be mentioned that councillor Allen was allowed to do this under the council's policies on items that could be paid for by council, but this was not something that councillor Hull wanted to pay any attention to, the fact that it was allowed. What councillor Hull chose to do was get on Twitter and harass councillor Allen 23 times between 31 March and 21 May 2014; he put up discrediting comments which were described by the Ombudsman as 'repeated and/or sustained' evidence of bullying.
Having been on the Marion council and having seen what that council can do when it is aligned and doing good things, I am very disheartened by the reasons that some people get elected to council and what some people choose to do with that position of privilege and authority. I have often said in this place that of the three tiers of government, local government has the capacity to be the most effective tier because of its ability to very immediately affect residents' lives in a positive way. Likewise, it also has the capacity to be the most dysfunctional and damaging tier of government, for the same reasons.

In the upcoming local government elections, I urge people with strong community credentials, enterprising minds and a desire to challenge the status quo to put their hands up for election. In the lottery of democracy they may not be able to choose their colleagues but I hope that those who are joined by a majority of like-minded people will be able to drive real reform in local councils.

Extracted from Hansard