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Are Council's Audit Committee just parrots offering half informed opinions?

On the 28th of July 2020 the Eurobodalla Councillors were presented with a staff recommendation that: - Council endorses the selection of the preferred tenderer to construct the $70 million Batemans Bay Regional Aquatic, Arts and Leisure Centre - Council accordingly approves the entering into a contractual arrangement with the preferred tenderer - and that Council allocates a total project budget in accordance with the confidential attachment But before they could vote on this Councilor Phil Constable put forward his alternate motion (seconded by Clr Mayne): That council defer its consideration of this matter today and bring it back to a future Council meeting after a report is received from the Audit, Risk and Improvement Committee on the implications on cash flow projections and design modifications that may be necessary in light of the COVID-19 restrictions and the likelihood of similar events. Keep in mind that the above alternate motion was written by a member of the Audit, Risk and Improvement Committee. It is plain to see that, as a member of the Audit, Risk and Improvement Committee, Councillor Constable was not happy with the recommendation that Council commit to providing $19 million of ratepayers money to the project. By his alternate motion it is clear that they, as a committee, were not yet satisfied of the implications on cash flow projections and design modifications that may be necessary in light of the COVID-19 restrictions. Of importance to this alternate motion was the support that Councillor Constable received from Clr Anthony Mayne and Councillor Pat McGinlay. The Audit, Risk and Improvement Committee Independent Chairperson, Mr Mark Barraclough, presented the Audit, Risk and Improvement Committee Annual Report on March 24th 2020 to the Council. In it he stated that "During the past year, the ARIC has reviewed and/or monitored a number of regular (standard agenda items) and one off issues such as: - The Batemans Bay Regional Aquatic, Arts and Leisure Centre progress In that time Councillor Anthony Mayne was on the Audit, Risk and Improvement Committee. On the 28th of July 2020 it was Councillor Anthony Mayne, a previous Audit and Risk Committee member who supported the alternate motion to defer until the Audit and Risk Committee consider "the implications on cash flow projections and design modifications that may be necessary in light of the COVID-19 restrictions and the likelihood of similar events. Also supporting the alternate motion was Councillor Pat McGinlay. When the vacancy for a Councillor to sit on the Audit Committee came up in September 2018, after Clr Mayne stepped down, Councillor Pat McGinlay nominated to fill the position as a second councillor representative to sit alongside Councillor Constable. Council Lindsay Brown however decided he too would put his name in the hat for the position. In response to a suggestion from Councillor Mayne that candidates might like to briefly describe what skills they might bring to the position Councillor McGinlay was the only one to respond, convincingly staking his claim, on the public record, to the position, yet when the vote was counted his credentials of 4 to five years experience as a full time auditor with the Australian National Audit Office and the fact that he had previously worked with the Eurobodalla Shire Council as a Divisional Manager for several years and had extensive knowledge of how the internal accounting system worked were both ignored. The vote for Clr Lindsay Brown was: Brown, Thomson, Nathan, Tait, Constable and Pollock and Mayne - not Innes or McGinlay The vote for Clr Phil Constable was: All except Mayne The vote for Clr Pat McGinlay was: Innes, Mayne and McGinlay. The role of Councillor representatives on the Audit and Risk Committee now sat squarely on the shoulders of Councillors Phil Constable and Lindsay Brown. The Committee achieves its independence by having a majority of independent members, external to Council and its operations, and two councillors. It has no executive powers unless such powers are delegated to it by the Council. The committee is directly responsible and accountable to the Council for the exercise of its powers and responsibilities. The Audit, Risk and Improvement Committee's objective is to provide independent assurance and assistance to the Council on risk management, control, governance and external accountability responsibilities. The Council authorises the Committee, within the scope of its role and responsibilities to:

  • require any information it needs from any employee or external party (subject to legal obligations to protect information)

  • discuss any matters with the external auditor or other external parties (subject to confidentiality considerations)

  • request the attendance of any employee or councillor at Committee meetings

  • obtain external legal or other professional advice considered necessary to meet its responsibilities.

The Audit, Risk and Improvement Committee responsibilities in the context of the Mackay Park project are to: - Review whether a sound and effective approach has been followed in developing strategic risk management plans for major projects or undertakings - Review whether a sound and effective approach has been followed in establishing business continuity planning arrangements including whether plans have been tested periodically. In July 2020 it was evident from Councillor Constable's alternate motion that he had concerns enough around the Mackay Park business continuity planning arrangements and development of a strategic risk management plans for the project to ask that the matter be deferred. It was voted against.

VIDEO: Extracts from Ordinary Meeting of Eurobodalla Council Date: 28 July 2020

Published Under MOU with Eurobodalla Shire Council Creative Commons Attribution

NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Australia licence. Read more http://bit.ly/beagleCC Unknown to Councillor Constable the General Manager was sitting on a letter from the Office of Local Government that was also raising the same concerns. This letter was not provided to any of the councillors. The fact that the letter was withheld by the General Manager is now a matter of a Code of Conduct complaint to be considered by an independent reviewer with the Office of Local Government to be informed of the outcome. Councillor Mayne asked during debate if the Audit Committee had been given all the facts in regards to the projected costs, projected incomes and projected expenditures. He was advised that the Audit Committee was only an advisory committee and as the information around the projected costs and operating figures were "commercial in confidence" they had not been provided the figures. The councillors and many of the public watching via live streaming discovered that while Councillors were trusted with such confidentiality the same trust was not extended to Council's own Audit and Risk Committee. Once again Councillor Constable, a member of the Audit and Risk Committee made reference to the Otium Business Case that, to date, is the only document available in the pubic domain that offers any income projections.

Below is an extract from the letter from the Office of Local Government sent from the Office of Local Government on July 13th, 2020 to Dr Catherine Dale, General Manager of Eurobodalla Council, that was NOT provided to the Councillors, nor the Audit and Risk Committee, for their consideration prior to the July 2020 debate and vote.

Below are the General Manager's responses to questions asked by The Beagle

FURTHER READING: Did the General Manager breach the Local Government ACT. And who shall decide?


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