Letting down shire: Strathbogie councillor

By James Bennett

A Strathbogie Shire councillor is calling on his colleagues to ensure there is no more ‘‘failings’’ or policy breaches.

Alistair Thomson said he was ‘‘appalled’’ the Victorian Auditor-General’s Office handed down the report into fraud and corruption last week, which singled out Strathbogie on numerous occasions for failing to follow its own policy.

Strathbogie was one of four councils audited, including Greater Shepparton City Council, and cleared of any fraud and corruption from data collected between July 2015 and February this year.

The Auditor-General’s office handed down 10 general recommendations to all four councils on how to improve its process in detecting, scrutiny and reporting fraud and corruption, plus one specific recommendation to Strathbogie saying it needs to review its car policy.

The shire said last week it had already started to implement the recommendations, but Cr Thomson said he was concerned the shire had ‘‘failed to grasp the seriousness of the findings’’.

This afternoon is the first opportunity for council to discuss the report at the special ordinary meeting.

Cr Thomson said he would be providing his own recommendations on how council should move forward and that more action was required.

‘‘I hope enough councillors will join me in outlining the probity standards that the community expects and insisting that these standards are met,’’ he said.

Cr Thomson said those responsible for the policy breaches must ensure the money was returned.

‘‘I have never claimed one cent of expenses above my standard councillor allowance. That is my choice,’’ he said.

‘‘I have no problem with councillors claiming reasonable and legitimate expenses to fulfil their role. I do have a problem with the two serious instances of councillor policy breaches detailed in the VAGO report.

‘‘This money should be refunded to the shire.’’

Cr Thomson said the actions of a few had let down the shire and described the organisation’s action as ‘‘poor practice’’, but did welcome the audit.

‘‘These audits do bring important things forward. To be frank, I felt we would be on the same line as Greater Shepparton City Council,’’ he said.

‘‘The Herald Sun described the report as ‘scathing’ towards Strathbogie and I think that’s correct.’’

Strathbogie Shire chief executive Steve Crawcour said the management team was taking the report seriously.

‘‘The organisation will be working closely with its elected members to review the findings from the audit and ensure the organisation emerges from this process with a stronger focus on the needs and expectations of ratepayers,’’ Mr Crawcour said.

The News attempted to contact other Strathbogie Shire councillors.

John Mason and Malcolm Little said they would not comment on the report until it had been discussed further at today’s meeting, while all others could not be reached.

Mayor Amanda McClaren reiterated Mr Crawcour’s words and said the council would make a further statement after the meeting.