July 1, 2020
South Burnett councillors have taken an axe to new expense allowances, reducing them to their lowest level since 2012.
Changes to the Councillor Remuneration Policy were passed at a special meeting held in Kingaroy on Wednesday morning.
The changes reverse an updated version of the policy adopted at April’s general meeting.
Under the new scheme, meal allowances will be cut by half; phone expenses will be capped at a maximum of $2000 per annum; and car allowances will be paid at rates set by the ATO and based on log books rather than a fixed weekly amount.
An extra $1000 mayoral phone allowance has been discontinued, and a $2000 mayoral hospitality allowance has been cut in half.
During the meeting all Councillors said they were disappointed with the negative reaction they had received since the amended policy was passed in April.
“There has been a lot of pushback from the community, and I get that,” Cr Kathy Duff said.
“But over the 16 years I’ve worked here most Councillors have never claimed the full amount (of their expenses entitlements).”
Cr Roz Frohloff agreed.
“I want to get it on the record that the breakfast, lunch and dinner allowances are not an everyday thing,” she said.
“They only apply when we go away for a conference or a meeting somewhere (outside the region).”
Cr Kirstie Schumacher said Cr Frohloff was correct, and all the allowances were set at a maximum level that most councillors never reached.
“Just because it’s in the policy doesn’t mean councillors will claim it,” she said.
“I was also very disappointed by the cheap comments made by some people in the community about councillors having their noses in the trough.
“Like my colleagues in this Chamber, I have worked enormous hours late into the night and on weekends since being elected, and I do this because I love my community.
“This job is more to me than money. I had a corporate career and I walked away from it because my heart is in this region.
“So I challenge anyone who made those comments to come forward or give me a call, because this will not be tolerated at all in my term of council.”
Cr Scott Henschen said he would also like to make a remark for the record.
“Can I say as a new Councillor that in all the study I did leading up to the 2019 election, I found no one had abused the (expenses) facility by any measure and I was very pleased to see this,” he said.
“I also agree with Cr Schumacher that we’re not here to put our snouts in the trough as proposed by some in the public – we’re here to do a job.”
Mayor Brett Otto said he had also been saddened and disappointed by the community’s negative attitude.
He wanted to make it clear that expenses allowances existed to cover the cost of carrying out legitimate Council work, and those costs were often unavoidable.
The changes adopted on Wednesday were:
- Meal allowance (to be paid when Councillors are out of the region attending to Council business): $17.50 for breakfast (down from $35); $25 for lunch (down from $50); and $50 for dinner (down from $100). As in the past, all must be receipted.
- Mayoral hospitality allowance (an extra allowance for the Mayor when entertaining visitors on Council-related business): $1000 per year (down from $2000).
- Phone allowance: Capped at $2000 per annum for the Mayor and all Councillors, supported by phone bills (the Mayor formerly had a $3000-a-year phone allowance).
- Car allowance: Now set to the ATO’s car expense rate of 72c per km (supported by log books), scrapping weekly allowances of $100 for Div 3 and 4; $180 for Div 1 and 2; and $250 for Div 5 and 6. Mayor Otto emphasised that he was saving ratepayers around $20,000 a year by using his own vehicle.