Monday 31 August 2020
Former Cairns Regional Councillor Richie Bates has been found to have engaged in misconduct while in office, by twice failing to disclose his links to major unions when council considered enterprise bargaining matters to which those unions were parties.
Cr Bates failed to declare he was a member of the Australian Workers Union (AWU) and had received $1000 in electoral donations from the AWU as well as $2000 in donations from the Transport Workers Union (TWU) in 2016, when a staff enterprise bargaining agreement (EBA), which included a basic wage increase, was considered at a council meeting in April 2018.
Both unions were among several involved in the EBA negotiations.
At a previous council meeting in November 2015, Cr Bates also failed to disclose his AWU membership and $1000 in donations made in 2012 by the TWU when a one-off payment for staff was considered due to council’s inability to progress EBA negotiations.
An investigation by the Office of the Independent Assessor (OIA) found that despite these omissions, minutes from a council meeting in 2012 showed Cr Bates had declared a conflict of interest due to the TWU contributions to his election campaign.
In referring the matter to the Councillor Conduct Tribunal (CCT), the OIA submitted that this action years earlier showed Cr Bates was aware a conflict of interest existed and his legal obligation to declare it.
The OIA highlighted that the Local Government Act 2009 requires councillors to deal with any real or perceived conflict of interest in a transparent and accountable way.
Cr Bates contended that his failure to declare an interest was an oversight and that he did not deliberately set out to deceive council or intentionally withhold information for a personal benefit.
He pointed to the fact he had disclosed the donations in a return to the Electoral Commission of Queensland (ECQ), had limited involvement with the unions and did not take part in direct negotiations with unions regarding EBAs.
While the CCT accepted that Cr Bates’ actions in both instances were not deliberate, it sustained the allegations against him, noting a previous misconduct finding which also related to his failure to declare a conflict of interest at a meeting.
The CCT also noted it was not clear what training had been provided to Cr Bates and acknowledged his cooperation with the OIA investigation.
The CCT ordered the former councillor to publicly admit he engaged in misconduct while highlighting that the range of available sanctions was limited as he did not return to office after the 2020 elections.
The Councillor Conduct Tribunal decision can be found here.
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