In March 2018, the Minister suspended the Council and, on 24 April 2018, he established the Inquiry in a bid to ‘restore confidence in the people of Perth of the City’s ability to provide good governance for its community’.
Today’s closing remarks by Commissioner Tony Power brings to an end the largest, most complex and most significant inquiry of its kind into any local government in the history of this State.
The Terms of Reference were comprehensive and encouraged a rigorous examination of government at the City between 1 October 2015 and 1 March 2018 including:
- whether there was a failure to provide good government in the City;
- whether good government would be provided in the future, including whether the Council and the Administration had to ability, and were likely to do so; and
- the steps which may need to be taken to ensure the future good government of the City.
During its 26-month-long investigation, the Inquiry covered 49 different aspects of the City’s operations that were within the Terms of Reference and assessed as worthy of investigation.
The focus was then narrowed to 30 matters which were scrutinised even more closely. It examined around four million documents and heard from 104 witnesses, some of whom were reluctant and sometimes time-consumingly obstructive. Public and private hearings
were held over 125 days.
Commissioner Power believes the Inquiry has been able to identify with some precision the root causes of many of the problems at the City, both in the Council and Administration.
“It is not the Inquiry’s role to make findings of criminal conduct or corruption but it was inevitable that it would uncover conduct giving rise to reasonable suspicion that laws have been broken,” he said, “and such conduct has
been referred to the appropriate Commonwealth and State authorities.”
The Inquiry has referred more than 135 matters, many concerning suspected criminal behaviour, relating to 23 individuals and one organisation, including Council members and senior members of the Administration.
In total, there were 39 individuals given the opportunity to respond to adverse findings, prior to the report being finalised, between December 2019 and April 2020.
Overall, the Inquiry considered the Council of the City of Perth was poorly led, divided and, as a result, dysfunctional. Had it been necessary, the Inquiry would have recommended the entire Council be dismissed.
“The Lord Mayor, Ms Lisa Scaffidi, too often encouraged division and factionalism,” said Mr Power.
“Some members of the Council and the Administration engaged in improper and unethical conduct.
“The trappings and privileges of high office, in the form of dining, clothing and grooming allowances were exploited by some members of the Council. They often did so for their own personal benefit, at the ratepayers’ expense and with little
regard for the interests of the community as a whole.
“The community deserved better.”
The Inquiry also identified a large number of governance failures across the Council and the Administration. They were widespread and often entrenched. All were avoidable.
It also uncovered a number of instances where the Administration failed to identify, prevent, properly investigate, adequately report and then act on misconduct.
Compounding the governance failures across many levels in the administration was a woeful failure to properly plan for the City’s future and adequately manage its finances.
Overall, the City was poorly led, poorly governed, dysfunctional and, as a result, failing in its most important duty – to properly represent and serve the needs and interests of its community.
The Commissioner noted that a number of positive steps had been taken to address many of the failings identified in the report since the appointment by the Minister of Commissioners to run the City.
“The road to recovery will be a long and slow one, but good government can be restored if the failings identified by the Inquiry are properly addressed,” he said.
Finally, the Commissioner paid tribute to the skilled, professional and hard-working Inquiry team, and emphasised that he makes “no apology for the time, care and attention which has gone into its investigations and hearings. It was necessary.’