City’s French connection invokes Travelgate saga

By Chris Thomson | posted on March 15, 2018

THE Travelgate scandal that saw the Corruption and Crime Commission form opinions of serious misconduct against Perth Lord Mayor Lisa Scaffidi reared its head in Albany on Tuesday when a city committee agreed that ratepayers foot the bill for a $5000 trip to France for Mayor Dennis Wellington.

Toward the end of debate on the planned trip to Peronne to commemorate Australia’s World War I military presence at the Somme, Deputy Mayor Greg Stocks dubbed Albany’s inability to accept an offer from Peronne of accommodation and domestic transport “a load of rubbish”.

“It’s not as if the mayor is going to the Olympic Games … and drinking with the corporate sector,” Cr Stocks said, precipitating a muffled chortle from one of his elected colleagues.

The observation was a pointed reference to Ms Scaffidi’s acceptance of a trip to the 2008 Beijing Olympics for she and husband Joe, courtesy of BHP-Billiton.

After the CCC published opinions of serious misconduct against Ms Scaffidi in 2015, the ensuing Travelgate affair saw the State Government tighten declaration requirements for all gifts to local officials, including trips abroad.

At the Community and Corporate Services Committee meeting on Tuesday night, Alison Goode, Mayor of Albany from 1999 to 2007, said it was “a shame” Mr Wellington was “unable to accept the gift” but that such hospitality usually came at a cost.

“When the Mayor of Gallipoli came out, we footed the bill for everything,” Cr Goode recalled.

Cr Sandie Smith asked city CEO Andrew Sharpe if the friendship agreement with Peronne was active and reciprocal, as required by the city’s Civic Affiliations Policy for an overseas trip.

Mr Sharpe said that when in Peronne Mr Wellington would discuss a return visit from French officials to commemorate the Anzacs’ departure from Albany in 1914.

“It’s a bit late for that,” Cr Smith observed.

“When was the last time there was a reciprocal visit from them, please?”

Addressing Cr Goode, and not committee chair Paul Terry, Mr Wellington said he thought it was “when you were mayor”.

“I think they were invited for 2014 but couldn’t make it,” he added.

Mr Sharpe acknowledged Cr Smith’s was “a valid question”.

“I think that’s a conversation the mayor is quite likely to have when he visits Peronne to see if there’s a desire to visit in 2019,” he said, referring to the Field of Light: Avenue of Honour installation set to commemorate the Anzacs from October 2018 to April 2019 at Mount Clarence.

Mr Wellington said that since the agreement with Peronne was signed in 2008, the city had realised its bilateral relationships were very expensive.

He said the city had said “no thanks” in the past “four or five months” to two approaches from Chinese cities.

After debate concluded, Mr Wellington left the council chambers and his 12 councillor colleagues unanimously endorsed the $5000 visit from August 31 to September 2.