05 June 2020
Former Cassowary Coast Regional Councillor Ben Heath has been found to have engaged in misconduct in office for a third time after failing to record his involvement in a seafood business and relationship with the owner on his register of interests.
The Office of the Independent Assessor (OIA) launched an investigation after receiving a referral from the Crime and Corruption Commission (CCC) about Cr Heath’s alleged interest in Innisfail Seafood.
The OIA found that prior to being elected in 2016, Cr Heath began a personal relationship with the owner of the business and was extensively involved in its operation both before and during his term in office.
While Cr Heath had been a paid employee for about six months he also worked in an unpaid capacity from April 2016, the month after he was elected, until he purchased Innisfail Seafood mid-way through the council term in July 2018.
During that time he performed a range of duties such as picking up supplies, serving customers, and marketing activities which included promoting the business on Facebook.
One post showed him working behind the counter and in another he promoted the price of prawns.
While Cr Heath did not dispute his involvement in Innisfail Seafood, he argued it was “gratuitous and no benefit was received”.
He contended that he was only required to record his financial interest in the business on his register of interests once he had purchased it.
But the Councillor Conduct Tribunal (CCT) found Cr Heath had engaged in misconduct as his involvement with the business constituted a ‘non-financial interest' and the failure to record it was a “dereliction of his responsibilities”.
The CCT found that even before purchasing Innisfail Seafood Cr Heath’s activities were directed towards the promotion, advancement and operation of the business and that promotional activities showed he was integrally linked to it, thereby raising a real, perceived or potential conflict of interest between his private life and his duties as a councillor.
The CCT also found that Cr Heath demonstrated his awareness of the interest, and his statutory obligations to act in the public interest, having declared a material personal interest at two committee meetings in 2017 which considered an application by Innisfail Seafood.
It ordered him to make a public admission of his misconduct at a council meeting within 90 days of receiving the order, noting that registers of interests exist to promote transparency in decision making and that councillors must make full and accurate disclosures of all financial and non-financial interests.
The CCT ruling is the third misconduct finding against former Cr Health who was sanctioned in 2019 for failing to record a personal interest on his register of interests and failing to inform a council meeting of a personal interest in a matter before council.
The Councillor Conduct Tribunal decision can be found here.
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