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Orange sent five councillors and the CEO to a four-day conference in Canberra this week

June 17, 2023


Social media images from the events in Canberra. Facebook.

By Peter Holmes


Former mayor Reg Kidd has slammed Orange City Council (OCC) for sending six people - five councillors and the CEO - to a four-day conference in Canberra this week, while current councillors Dr Steve Peterson and Frances Kinghorne have questioned the value in attending such events.



However Orange City Council has defended the trip, saying there is benefit to the city.



The 2023 National General Assembly of Local Government (NGA) – incorporating the Regional Cooperation and Development Forum – started on Tuesday (June 13, 2023) and concluded on Friday (June 16, 2023).


Councillor Jeff Whitton with PM Anthony Albanese. Facebook.

The Orange delegation was made up of CEO David Waddell, mayor Jason Hamling and councillors Kevin Duffy, David Mallard, Melanie McDonell and Jeff Whitton.

Kidd contacted The Orange News Examiner to express his exasperation at Orange City Council sending six people to the event.



He said he had been approached by an elderly couple in Orange who had heard rumours that six people were at the conference and wanted Kidd to do something about it.




“What overreach and [a] waste of resources,” Kidd said. “Usually three people go, share [a] car, etcetera. [I] would love to know the cost to ratepayers when so many are struggling with cost of living.”


Councillor Frances Kinghorne, who is part of the Orange Residents and Ratepayers Association, said: “It does seem like a lot of people.”

She said she had “seen councillors Whitton and Duffy in action at the state LGA (Local Government Association) conference last year, and I have to admit they are both very good at networking”.


“How that relates to good outcomes for Orange, I don’t actually know,” she added. “I have asked and have been assured that we do miss out if we don’t go.”


Councillor David Mallard (green shirt) at a dinner. Facebook.

Responding to emeritus mayor Kidd’s claims, Orange City Council said in a statement: “Council has an adopted budget of $5,000 per councillor [per year] to fund attendance at conferences. This has been a standard budget line item for a number of terms of council.”





Over a four-year term this equates to a maximum of $240,000 spent on sending people to conferences.


The statement said training and professional development “are an important part of making sure councillors can deliver for the community” and that it was “something that successful organisations across the world value for good reason”.


“It is a priority for the current council and was so for past councils when past mayors and past councillors attended conferences and training,” OCC said.

“The 2023 National General Assembly of Local Government has given the attendees the opportunity to meet and hear from the key ministers and staff of the Albanese government for the first time.



“The conference also saw the federal government announce and discuss funding opportunities first-hand with local government.”





Greens councillor David Mallard, in his first term, posted on social media about his trip to Canberra.


One post stated: “I’m in Canberra along with a number of our other councillors and the CEO for local government conferences this week, starting today with the Regional Forum of the Australian Local Government Association, which has a record 450 attendees from across the country.


“As well as hearing from the Minister and Shadow Minister for Local Government, today we’ve already had sessions discussing challenges (and some promising work on innovative solutions) facing the regions around community resilience and disaster preparations and recovery, as well as skill and workforce shortages in regional health and in urban and regional planning.


“More sessions to come this afternoon about better connecting and investing in regional Australia, and then through the rest of the week we have ALGA’s National General Assembly followed by the Australian Council of Local Government.”

First-term Orange councillor Dr Steve Peterson said he was “not convinced [conferences] represent value for money and that the councillors that go are any better at their job than the ones that don't”.


Federal minister Kristy McBain speaks. Facebook.

He said he had not attended any conferences since becoming a councillor.


“I am the only one to avoid them.”



Peterson said a ratepayer had written to him this week complaining about what they said was a “junket”. “The total cost to Orange ratepayers would be embarrassing,” the ratepayer wrote.

Councillor McDonell said: “It’s not about how many attend, it’s what each gets out of it and how that relates to our local community.”

Councillor Kinghorne said that “at the very least, we should be receiving some kind of report from the councillors who do attend any of these conferences, explaining what they have learned and how it helps Orange”.



Facebook.

“I have been to one conference and did submit such a report, and I think Melanie McDonell has submitted one also, but that’s all,” Kinghorne said.



“The whole networking thing is really not something I enjoy, nor am I very good at it, so, having been to one conference, that’s it for me - unless there’s something valuable that I can learn.


“They certainly shouldn’t be used as a profile enhancing tool.”


The Orange News Examiner sought comment from councillors Duffy, Hamling, Mallard and Whitton.


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