Mayor calls for code of conduct review

Mayor Ben Shaw

TASMANIA’S Code of Conduct for councillors needs some work, Derwent Valley mayor Ben Shaw told last month’s council meeting following the conclusion of a case against him.

The state’s conduct panel dismissed multiple complaints about Cr Shaw but issued him with a caution in relation to treating all persons with courtesy, fairness, dignity and respect.

Ms Rebbecca Thorpe had alleged that Cr Shaw had breached several provisions of the code of conduct in relation to decision making, conflict of interest, use of information, gifts and benefits, relationships with the community, and representation.

In its report to the council, the panel said there had been no evidence presented that would support some of the complaints, and other evidence was inconclusive, but it understood that “Ms Thorpe has  been upset in relation to her dealings with the Derwent Valley Council and especially Mayor Shaw”.

The panel upheld a complaint under Part 7(1)(c) of the code of conduct, finding that Cr Shaw had shown a lack of courtesy, fairness and respect while Ms Thorpe was addressing a council workshop in February last year. “The panel finds that Mayor Shaw was engaged with his mobile phone during Ms Thorpe’s presentation, and was laughing. Whilst Mayor Shaw stated in his submission he did ‘not laugh at Ms Thorpe’, and the panel makes no finding that he did so, the panel concluded that there was sufficient evidence to find that his behaviour in utilising his mobile phone and laughing whilst Ms Thorpe was clearly very upset whilst making her presentation lacked courtesy, fairness and respect for Ms Thorpe.”

Speaking from the chair at last month’s council meeting, Cr Shaw said he would address the report as it was about him. “I guess I’m happy that it’s been concluded. I think Cr Evans made a similar statement when his [code of conduct investigation] was concluded a couple months ago, that whilst we support the need for a councillor code of conduct it certainly needs some work,” Cr Shaw said.

“It certainly needs to, I guess, be not so onerous, I guess, on the people involved and also an impost to the councils and ratepayers especially when a lot of them are, I guess, potentially vexatious and just, I guess, axe-grinding to individuals,” he said.

“So it will come at a considerable cost to council and the ratepayers and not necessarily at the fault of councillors but certainly I would like to see a bit of a review into the way these are handed down. It’s just a short statement from me because it is about me.”

Cr Martyn Evans

The mayor’s comments followed remarks by Cr Evans who once again questioned the cost to councils for each code of conduct investigation.  “How much of an impost is this going to be on the ratepayers? Have we got our bills for these? Are they going to fall current in this financial year or next financial year? Mine was determined months ago, yours is already determined, there’s been another one as well that’s been determined. Do we have bills for any of those and what is the quantity that the ratepayers are going to have to foot the bill for?” Cr Evans said.

General manager Greg Winton told the meeting there had been no bills to be paid as yet. “I did actually have correspondence earlier this week from the Local Government Division which indicated that because of the volume of code of conduct complaints that the panel has dealt with in this financial year, that they are processing invoices for them all at this point in time, so I haven’t received any yet as such.”

As with the earlier complaints about Cr Evans, which were dismissed in their entirety, the code of conduct panel reflected on its own inability to investigate and report on Ms Thorpe’s complaint in the timeframe specified by the Local Government Act, due to the amount of information provided by Ms Thorpe, the need for two hearings, and members of the panel taking annual leave. “Added to this was Mayor Shaw’s continued questioning of the reason for requesting information from him and his unavailability to meet requested timeframes during the process of determining this complaint,” it said.

“Whilst the panel dismissed a number of the complaints lodged by Ms Thorpe against Mayor Shaw,  it considers that a more pro-active and conciliatory approach by Mayor Shaw at the outset might have resulted in a more positive outcome for Ms Thorpe.”

Cr Shaw told the Mercury that he accepted the finding and hoped to move on from the incident. He said he used his phone and tablet regularly during meetings and briefings to take notes.

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