National

‘Perfect storm’ of animosity at WA council

By AAP Newswire

City of Perth councillors may have unlawfully manipulated the electoral process and failed to make appropriate declarations as a "perfect storm" of animosity peaked before the council was suspended, an inquiry has heard.

The inquiry, which has completed 40 days of public hearings and 92 private hearings, was launched following the lord mayor's failure to disclose travel and gifts, reports of councillors fighting, two CEOs taking stress leave and the council's suspension in March 2018.

Counsel assisting the inquiry Philip Urquhart said in his closing address on Thursday that "fractious and hostile" relationships between councillors and staff had disintegrated by February 27 last year.

"The level of animosity within the City of Perth was, at times, palpable," he said.

"The perfect storm that had been forming for some time had finally peaked."

Mr Urquhart suggested the poor relationships may have resulted in a majority faction of the council attempting to appoint a favoured executive as the acting CEO.

"There is also evidence suggesting that a majority of the executive leadership group improperly activated a crisis management plan, which significantly destabilised the city," he said.

Mr Urquhart said councillors had failed to adequately disclose their sources of income in annual returns, gifts they received and financial interests in matters before the council.

Councillors also misused their privileges to entertain people in the dining room, and made improper claims for reimbursement of expenses.

"At least one elected member used their title and prestige as a councillor in business dealings to earn commission payments and attract or impress clients," Mr Urquhart said.

He said it was further open for the inquiry to find councillors "improperly or unlawfully manipulated" the electoral process.

That was done by creating sham leases to nominate as a candidate, making false complaints to the returning officer so electors would be struck off the roll, and nominating friends and family with no connection to corporate bodies in the city to gain votes.

There was also evidence suggesting councillors failed to consider matters on their merits, including performance reviews for chief executive Gary Stevenson, who had reported matters to the Corruption and Crime Commission.

Mr Urquhart said there was also evidence to support a finding that administrators failed to enforce appropriate governance practices.

Some witnesses may be referred to law enforcement agencies for their "appalling lack of respect" shown to the inquiry, Mr Urquhart said.

Commissioner Tony Power will hand down his report early next year.