‘Junket’ must have ‘direct benefit’

Geelong Mayor Stephanie Asher

by Luke Voogt

A $12,000 mayoral trip to Brazil must produce direct benefits for Geelong to avoid being labelled another “junket”, a community watchdog has warned.

Ratepayers Geelong president Peter Mitchell issued the warning after council on Tuesday voted to send Mayor Stephanie Asher or another delegate to Santos in July.

“If there’s a value to Geelong I don’t see a problem with it,” he said.

“But I would like a report on what the outcomes are and how they benefit Geelong.

“If it’s just to tell people Geelong exists, you can do that in much more effective ways.”

The trips to the UNESCO Creative Cities Network’s annual general meetings have caused controversy since City Hall signed up to the organisation in 2017.

Mr Mitchell described former mayor Bruce Harwood’s trips to annual meetings in Poland and Italy as “junkets” because of additional stops in other cities.

“I’ve seen no tangible or direct benefits at all from them,” he said.

Last year the Independent revealed Cr Harwood had taken two weeks annual leave either side of the conference in Italy, which further infuriated Ratepayers Geelong.

Mr Mitchell was more circumspect than then Ratepayers president Andrew Senia, saying the annual leave resulted in no extra cost.

“It’s no skin off our nose but at the same time it’s not a good look,” he said.

But Cr Asher ruled out taking leave either side of the trip, stating her family holiday “won’t be anywhere near South America” and that the conference did not align with school holidays.

“Personally, I have no problem with people aligning personal leave dates with work trips,” she said.

But because Cr Harwood’s holiday was either side of the conference, ratepayers should not have paid for flights from Australia to “the holiday destination”, Cr Asher said.

“It’s crystal clear to me as a business owner that, in that context, only the cost of travel from the holiday destination to the conference and back are claimable as work-related.”

Cr Asher or a delegate, and a council staff member, will travel to the AGM from July 13 to 19 and will also visit Geelong’s fellow ‘City of Design’ Curitiba.

Attending the conference “would be a unique opportunity to present Geelong in all its glory” to 230 major cities, Cr Asher said.

Broadening Geelong’s horizons through promotion, research and developing relationships was “critical”, she said.

Geelong’s UNESCO City of Design designation was instrumental in expanding Melbourne Design Week to Geelong last year, Cr Asher said.

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