Councillor pays for study tour


Simon Brooks

AFTER “acrimonious debate” Mornington Peninsula Shire last week knocked back a request for Cr Simon Brooks to attend the 23rd Conference of the Parties UN conference at Bonn in November from his study allowance.

But the first-term councillor will still be going to Germany – and as the shire’s official delegate – but will pay his own way.

Cr Brooks said the importance of the conference to a carbon-neutral peninsula meant the trip was worth the expense.

“My election platform was based on policies of environmental sustainability as well as planning,” he said.

“As a 40-year-old local I have a perspective of where we are now and where we are heading.

“I [told the council] I was still prepared to go and pay my own way [about $8000] as long as I was under the council’s auspices.”

Cr Brooks said going as council’s representative was the “only way to be able to fully participate in discussions; you need that impetus to get the most out of it. It is a privilege to go and be able to bring back knowledge”.

Shire CEO Carl Cowie had earlier received council approval to attend the conference under his $30,000 study allowance, as well as trips to Sweden to review renewable energy sites and attend the 2017 Commonwealth Local Government Conference in Malta.

Cr Hugh Fraser had moved that Cr Brooks receive funding approval for the trip but this was defeated on the casting vote of the mayor Cr Bev Colomb.

“This shire has a long and proud history of addressing the issue of climate change and has been a close part of that international dialogue since 2007,” Cr Fraser told the meeting.

He and then mayor Cr Graham Pittock attended the November 2015 Paris COP 21 conference along with then renewable resources team leader Jess Wingad.

“The previous South Korea conference – run by the International Commission for Local government Environment Initiatives of which this council is a member – was attended by Cr [Tim] Rodgers and myself in early 2015.”

Cr Fraser said the conference in South Korea was hosted by the City of Seoul “at their expense with no registration fees, and Cr Rodgers previously attended the UN COP 2007 Bali and 2009 Copenhagen conferences”.

“There were many practical, instructive sessions at these conferences as to how the cities and regions of the world are dealing with climate change, waste and water.”

Cr David Gill said the decision not to allow Cr Brooks to go overseas at ratepayers’ expense followed “acrimonious debate”.

“As I’ve consistently said before, I don’t believe councillors should go [at ratepayers’ expense] on overseas or interstate trips,” Cr Gill told The News.

“They are elected to look after their local area and community – they’re just local councillors.”

Cr Fraser said reports made by councillors who attended “important overseas environment conferences” led to improvements. One was a shift from council being the “sustainable peninsula” to a commitment to carbon neutrality by 2021”.

Cr Fraser said an audit of council’s carbon footprint was undertaken, leading to the creation of specialist department: Climate Change Energy and Water, managed by Ms Wingad.

“It is that innovative department which is successfully working through practical tangible projects responding to climate change and reducing council’s carbon footprint,” he said.

“It has led to the introduction of LED street lighting, finance arrangements for private investment in solar panels, solar panels on council buildings and disposal of kerbside waste other than to landfill which generates the greenhouse gases comprising 48 per cent of our carbon footprint.

Cr Brooks said councillors could not gain extensive knowledge of a topic by researching online: “I am a great user of the internet and recognise its value, but one-on-one discussions at workshops and conferences with like-minded representatives are the best ways to learn, and to find nuances not on the net.”

First published in the Mornington News – 17 October 2017


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