FORMER deputy lord mayor Rob Butler has backed Lisa Scaffidi’s claim that councillors were undertrained about what they were supposed to declare as “gifts” and “travel contributions” in their annual returns.
But former council CEO Gary Stevenson said the information was provided to them, “in a number of ways and different times”.
Mr Butler was called as a witness to the State Administrative Tribunal on Wednesday June 14, as part of the hearing to determine what penalty Ms Scaffidi will face after she was found to have breached the Local Government Act 45 times by not declaring gifts and travel contributions.
Mr Butler said when he became a councillor “you’re given virtually no information” about what kind of things you should declare on your annual return.
He said there was very little, if any, training: “There was no one there to help you.
“Only in 2014/15 did they give councillors a copy of a very comprehensive way to fill out that form, but that’s the first time I’ve seen that in 12 years.”
Mr Butler was also subject to press scrutiny in 2015 when it came out he did not declare a 2014 trip to Malaysia that was paid for by a local government there.
Mr Butler said he did not think to put it in his annual return because the city was well aware of his travel there (the whole trip being booked by city staff).
Ms Scaffidi’s lawyer Steven Penglis used that as an example of how Ms Scaffidi wasn’t the only one who didn’t realise she had to declare trips.
Department of local government lawyer Carolyn Thatcher interrupted Mr Butler’s testimony to check if he was aware that he had a right to remain silent so as to not incriminate himself.
Mr Butler was undeterred and pressed ahead with his testimony, saying he’d since had advice that his Malaysia trip didn’t have to be declared anyway since there’s an exception in the Local Government Act for travel contributions paid for by “Commonwealth, state, or local governments”.
However the local government department’s lawyers did have Ms Scaffidi dead to rights on one undeclared trip, proving she knew she was supposed to declare her paid travel to the Kagoshima medical conference in Japan 2011.
Emails shown to the SAT panel showed a message from former CEO Frank Edwards advising Ms Scaffidi the “travel and expenses would need to be declared”. She wrote back “got it, and agreed,” but she says when the time to lodge her annual return rolled around she had forgotten it.
“I feel absolute remorse” for not declaring it, Ms Scaffidi says. “I was extremely busy at the time. I am extremely sorry about it. I would hope people understand it’s a very busy role and it would have been great to have systems backing us up beside an email.”
Department lawyers also asked Ms Scaffidi if she’d been aware of the hot water former Cockburn Mayor Stephen Lee had got in back in 2008 for failing to disclose gifts, suggesting that should’ve been a trigger for her to realise she had similar obligations. She said she had not heard about that. The SAT will reconvene on June 21.
by DAVID BELL