Swan Hill council defends $10,000 cost of sending delegation to Canberra conference ‘junket’

Taxpayers will shell out more than $10,000 for Swan Hill councilors to attend a four-day local government summit in Canberra, despite concerns the community might perceive the trip as a “junket”.

Swan Hill Rural Council originally planned to send three representatives to the Australian Local Government Association’s annual conference in June – new chief executive Scott Barber, mayor Jade Benham and another councillor.

However, at a meeting this week, council voted to allow more delegation after councilors Anne Young, Bill Moar and Nicole McKay indicated they would like to attend.

The Council estimates that the average cost per person is $2,200, including $1,000 each in registration fees.

Only Councilor Les McPhee voted against the motion, fearing it would give the impression that council was having a “holiday”.

“There are 500 councilors across Australia and not all councils are going there… it is not essential that people are present at this meeting.

“It’s not about the high cost [to council]it’s a matter of perception.”

Councilor and former mayor Les McPhee (left) says the trip could be seen as a junket.(Provided)

Mr McPhee has attended the conference as mayor in previous years and said while it was worth it, he felt there were better uses for the money.

He told the meeting that because the conference was an annual event, those who could not attend this year would have other opportunities to participate.

“I agree that you work and network, but you only need two people, not five,” he said.

“It’s what they call ‘mayor per minute’, so do you get any value from talking to ministers? I don’t think so.”

Opportunity to bond after COVID closures

Ms Young, who spoke in favor of sending a larger delegation, said the meeting would help the council “come together”, especially in the wake of the pandemic.

“Advisors could discuss a range of issues in the car there and back.

“We haven’t had these things that have happened during COVID, so advisors haven’t had these opportunities to discuss things.”

Acting chief executive Rosanne Kava said the council’s budget could accommodate the additional delegates.

She said the conference would be “a unique opportunity” to defend the interests of the Municipality of Swan Hill.

“[Councillors] hear from prominent speakers on topics relevant to local government [and] meet and network with mayors and councilors from across Australia,” she said.

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