“WE have been conflicted hundreds of times.”
It finally dawned on Perth’s councillors in 2016 that they’d breached conflict of interest rules by accepting pricey VIP tickets and swank showbags for events propped up with ratepayers’ money.
But the Voice had been banging on about the apparent conflict of interest for more than 10 years.
Council house always batted away our questions by arguing it was “standard sponsorship practice” so councillors could make sure events were really worth funding.
In 2009, then-CEO Frank Edwards even challenged the paper to complain to the CCC when we raised the pricey tickets councillors were receiving for being on the Perth Theatre Trust board.
But a report from the Public Sector Commission in February 2016 about the Healthway ticket scandal, where state government employees were showered with VIP tickets by companies seeking sponsorship, had councillors worried they’d be next in the spotlight.
Cr Jim Adamos sent a message to his council allies in March: “You need to understand this. This is a huge issue … we have voted and accepted tickets. We have been conflicted hundreds of times.”
“This is no joke,” lord mayor Lisa Scaffidi texted.
The city stopped accepting tickets, and the Power inquiry has been forgiving of freebies taken up til then.
But even after the ban, some councillors received free tickets.
In September 2016, Cr Adamos contacted the Perth Fashion Festival directly to arrange tickets to two of their events. He declared the tickets as worth $69 each in the council’s gift registry, but counsel assisting the inquiry Philip Urquhart said their real value was $160 to $180; together well above the $300 limit on which all gifts are declared forbidden.
Former councillor Janet Davidson also got a free fashion festival ticket in 2016 which council staff valued at $49.88, but it was really worth $160. Ms Davidson told the inquiry she couldn’t remember how she got the ticket.
Ms Davidson argued governance staff had told councillors they could vote on festival funding in 2017; she even moved a motion to increase the sponsorship from $230,000 to $255,000.
Cr Reece Harley accepted and declared a ticket to the PFF in 2015 before the ban and voted in 2017.
He told the inquiry he hadn’t seen it as a conflict of interest because the fashion festival wasn’t his cup of tea and shouldn’t count as a “personal benefit”.
“It was – I didn’t want to say a chore – but [it] felt like I was attending to represent the city, to be there and to fulfil my duties,” he said. Cr Harley, who owns a single suit, didn’t go anyway.
He voted against Cr Davidson’s motion to increase the funding.
Only lord mayor Lisa Scaffidi excused herself from voting that year — she’d had a recent reminder about conflicts of interest via the state government’s case against her undeclared travel and gifts.