CR ANTHONY Marsh has disputed claims that he told his council colleagues he would not claim expenses for a trip to Roper Gulf in the Northern Territory.
Marsh and shire CEO John Baker made the visit after Marsh met Roper Gulf Regional Council’s mayor, Cr Tony Jack and CEO Marc Gardner at last year’s Womin Djeka – Balnarring Ngargee community festival.
When Marsh’s councillor expenses claim for $3750.48 came up for discussion at the shire’s Tuesday 7 February meeting, several councillors said he had previously said no reimbursement would be sought.
However, Marsh, who left the council chamber during the discussion, later told The News that he suspected some councillors of having memory loss and welcomed having his “expenses publicly debated and scrutinised”.
“The councillor group was aware of my intention to fund the trip upfront and at my risk and only to claim if there was a tangible outcome for the shire,” Marsh said.
The outcome of his trip to Roper Gulf has been a “partnership” between the shire and the remote municipality which will be formally announced “in the near” future, according to the current mayor, Cr Steve Holland.
“The suspected memory loss aside, I note that the three councillors who tried to defer a decision on reimbursement are the same three who intend to claim accommodation for an event in Cape Schanck,” Marsh said.
“Beyond transport and parking, I did not claim any additional costs incurred during the trip, and all expenses were subject to debate and decision in a public meeting.”
At the 7 February meeting Cr Susan Bissinger said it seemed “quite odd” that councillors were discussing whether Marsh’s claim was justified or legitimate.
Councillors had been very supportive of “reaching out to another council in the Northern Territory and the Indigenous roots they have”.
People in Roper Gulf had spent “far more money” by driving hundreds of kilometres “just to meet [Marsh]”.
“Council people from Roper flew down here and met our CEO, mayor and deputy to sign documents.
“I feel like an Indian giver – I don’t know if anyone else feels like that – but that’s what it feels like.”
Cr David Gill said the issue “seems a little clouded, the CEO has not claimed, and I believe we were told Cr Marsh was not going to claim expenses”.
“I have never voted against interstate travel [by councillors], but always against overseas travel.”
Gill believed Marsh has a legitimate reason to claim his expenses, but he saw the issue as one of timing, as the expenses had been incurred last year.
Cr Antonella Celi said consideration of Marsh’s claim should be deferred to make council’s policy position clear.
Going interstate for training and conferences needed prior approval, but Marsh’s reason for going to the Northern Territory “doesn’t fit the description”.
“I am sure that I heard it said that the expenses would not be claimed by Cr Marsh. We need more clarity on our policy.”
Cr Lisa Dixon, deputy mayor at the time of Marsh’s Roper Gulf Visit, said there had been “numerous discussions” about the tight timing and complexity of the trip.
Marsh had indicated he was prepared to “pay up front” as there was no time for a council resolution. Councillors had agreed for him to claim expenses retrospectively.
On his return, councillors had voted unanimously and been excited about the shire’s upcoming partnership with Roper Gulf.
Dixon said Marsh had been “totally transparent” throughout the process.
Cr Sarah Race did “recall that at the time” Marsh had said he would not claim expenses for the Roper trip.
She too was looking forward to “where the sister city partnership goes” but would have expected Marsh to claim expenses “within 14 days … before the end of the year”.
Councillors agreed to paying Marsh’s expenses claim and for a review of the councillor expenses policy.