Register to lay bare

BAYSWATER councillors may soon have to publicly declare their political allegiances.

At Tuesday night’s (April 9) meeting, councillors agreed to amend the city’s code of conduct to create a “political interest register”, where they’d have to declare party membership or if they worked for a political party. The register would be posted on the council’s website.

City officers will now investigate whether the register is enforceable and doesn’t impinge on councillor’s privacy.

The motion was tabled by councillor Chris Cornish, who said he wants more political transparency in local government.

Networking

“I have no problems with councillors being members of a political party; it actually leads to beneficial outcomes in terms of networking and access to decision makers,” he says.

“It also doesn’t make you beholden to that party. But perhaps being paid courtesy of a political party does, so I definitely think it should be disclosed if someone is a political staffer.”

Cr Cornish says if councillors can’t be forced to disclose their political links, the city should have a voluntary register instead.

The majority of councillors voted for the political register, but weren’t keen on extending it to cover councillors who worked for sitting MPs or had family members in parliament.

We asked Bayswater’s councillors if they would have anything to declare under the proposed Political Interest Register. Only a few years ago asking councillors and candidates about their political allegiances would have been controversial, but no one kicked up a fuss this time around:

CHRIS CORNISH: Former member of the Liberal party. “I resigned from the Liberal party for two reasons,” he says. “The first is that I wanted to be free to criticise the state/federal governments when they, or their departments, made decisions which I believe were contrary to the best interests of Bayswater residents and ratepayers. (For instance, the failure of the WAPC over the Eric Singleton development or the SAT approval of the concrete batching plant.) “Second, as a financial conservative, I really struggled with the spend-happy ways of the previous state government. Any fool can spend money on things, but debt matters, and unlike the federal government, the state can’t just create more money.”

DAN BULL: Labor party member. He supported all motions, except the one requiring disclosure of family members’ loyalties.

LORNA CLARKE: Labor party member, vice president of Morley branch of the ALP, and previously employed by Labor MP Michelle Roberts.  “I’ve always been upfront about my ALP membership. I voted against the motion because it duplicates existing councillor disclosures, invades families’ privacy and risks politicising council. Instead, I think we should focus on fixing big community problems, such as recycling, homelessness and our town centres”.

CATHERINE EHRHARDT: Not a party member. She runs or assists 16 Facebook pages, solely running her own councillor page and the “Maylands Local” page. She co-runs the pages: Mingle in Maylands, Roxy Lane Community Garden, Maylands Business Association, Maylands Markets, Lace Incorporate, Maylands Street festival, Maylands Residents and Ratepayers Association, Roxy Lane Garden Members, Maylands Community Notices and Chat group, Perth College Leavers, Inglewood Primary Uniforms, Lace Members, Creative Maylands Members and Bakers Anonymous.

STEPHANIE GRAY: Member of the Labor party. She says she supports Cr Cornish’s motion in the interest of transparency. “If councillors are compelled to disclose these connections it puts to bed the rumours that sometimes circulate about affiliations to groups lobbying their own agendas”.

GIORGIA JOHNSON: Greens party member (declared at the meeting – we didn’t hear back from her this week).

BARRY MCKENNA: Labor party member. Has no social media accounts, and says he has no issue with Cr Cornish’s motion.

SALLY PALMER: Greens party member, and ran for them as a candidate in a couple of state elections. Is definitely not an admin of any Facebook pages. “Whatever it is, I haven’t got one. Is it free and/or is it contagious?”

FILOMENA PIFFARETTI: Labor party member, and an admin on the Noranda Vibes Facebook page.

MICHELLE SUTHERLAND: Liberal party member. Her husband Michael Sutherland was formerly the Liberal state member for Mount Lawley. But she says the disclosure of family members who are elected representatives is “a nonsense… nobody can be compelled to answer this question. It would, however, be common knowledge that a councillor’s spouse or partner holds political office”. She says of her own party membership: “I would have no hesitation answering”. She says employment details are already disclosed in a councillor’s annual returns, and membership of clubs and associations can already be handled via the existing declarations of interest system requiring councillors to disclose those associations before a relevant vote. Cr Sutherland has no objection to disclosing social media accounts which concern the City of Bayswater, “otherwise I do not see the point”.

ELLI PETERSEN-PIK: Not a member of any political party, and only the admin of one Facebook page (his own councillor page). He says “I am 100 per cent supportive of those initiatives as those registers are essential in ensuring that councillors are fully transparent. Our residents should have all that information available to be able to scrutinise every decision or statement being made by councillors. “I feel lucky to have been elected as an independent councillor. During my election, I could see how affiliation with political parties had the potential to affect both the election result and the decisions of party-backed councillors. For example, when a party organises a fundraiser for a specific candidate, they would be expected to stay loyal and avoid criticism of the party, especially when it is in power at state or federal levels. “On the disclosure of social media accounts: Facebook is a great tool, but I have seen how it can be used to manipulate people’s views. People should know if a councillor manages a specific community Facebook page, as it might be used for self-promotion or the promotion of others as a favour. Controlling a page can also be used to censor specific people or views, as administrators have the power to ban people or delete comments.

by DAVID BELL

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