New Mayor, Teresa Harding, announced Ipswich City Council, Queensland, will ‘set the gold standard’ for accountability of ratepayers’ money by having a dedicated hub for transparency and integrity – a first for local government in Australia.
Mayor Harding said a major priority of her administration would be to restore trust, transparency and accountability at Ipswich City Council.
The mayor and councillors wasted no time in discussing opportunities to rebuild trust and restore the council’s reputation when they met for the first time since the previous council was dismissed in August 2018.
The sacking came in the wake of the Crime and Corruption Commission (CCC) inquiry called Operation Windage, which charged 15 people associated with the council, including two former mayors, with a total of 86 criminal offences including fraud, corruption and extortion.
The inquiry’s final report identified significant governance failures, a culture of corruption, an improper use of power and inappropriate relationships.
Open and accountable
At the first official meeting of the new council on Monday 27 April, a mayoral motion was put forward to implement a transparency and integrity hub, to go live no later than 1 July 2020.
Mayor Harding said their vision for the hub was for it to be the gold standard for open and accountable government in Australia, providing the community with direct access, in near real-time, to how its money is being spent.
“Transparency, accountability and integrity are at the heart of good governance and must be at the centre of every action taken by this elected council.”
The mayor said the transparency and integrity hub would publish the details of all previously controlled entities. It would show, in detail, how ratepayer money was used.
It would also match up travel and allowances to provide the community with the answers they have been seeking for many years.
“This activity is designed to close the door on the dark past of the previous council, lay to rest the misgivings of the previous two mayors, and begin the journey to a fresh start, restoring community trust.
“The ability of a government to travel is vital; to seek greater funding, investment and to showcase the region are vital activities for Ipswich City Council.
“When it is abused, and public monies are squandered, it makes future councils’ ability to carry out their duties so much harder.
“Travel must always be legitimate and create value for the ratepayers of Ipswich; most of all, it must be transparent.
“Much of what occurred under the previous council was shrouded in mystery.
“While the community knows how some of its money was spent, some of this is not clear, and the community has a right to honesty.”
More value less cost
Mayor Harding said future building activities, like council’s Smart City Program, had been clouded by rumours about how ratepayer funds were used and that publication of all the details of such programs on the new transparency and integrity hub will remove doubt.
“Smart City Programs are critical to improve services and lower costs. If significant funding has been spent in Ipswich, the community has seen little value. They need to know what was spent, why and what public value has been created.
“Ipswich City Council intends to be a showcase for best practice for others to follow. Local government provides critical services to the communities we serve.
“While we raise around three percent of overall taxable revenue, council functions matter to the community daily.
“It is our duty to advocate for, lead and serve our Ipswich community and during this term of Council there will be the highest degree of transparency over how ratepayer money is used.”
Mayor Harding said that while many people see local government as just roads, rates and rubbish, there are many more important community services delivered from ratepayer funds.
These include libraries, economic and tourism development, investment attraction, safety and security, health and hygiene, parks and recreation, and infrastructure.
“The tender for the transparency and integrity hub will go to the open market so any company may tender.
“The days of deal making and sweetheart deals behind closed doors and legal loopholes are over in Ipswich. We want the best of breed solution in Ipswich. The residents of Ipswich deserve nothing less.
“The establishment of a transparency and integrity hub will ensure our council is best placed to deliver prosperity, sustainability and wellbeing equally across our region, both now and into the future.”