In the same week as the Prime Minister was handed a pay rise, Bega Valley councillors have turned down a proposed fee increase for the third year in a row.
"It's the biggest conflict of interest we have," Bega Valley Shire Mayor Kristy McBain said this week.
Cr McBain said councillors should not vote on their own pay, and said she had taken the issue up with the Local Government Remuneration Tribunal last year.
Council's draft budget for the next financial year included an increase of 2.5 per cent in anticipation of the tribunal's annual determination that councillors could hand themselves an increase. The tribunal had proposed councillors in regions classified "Rural Regional" receive $20,280, and the mayor $44,250 over the next financial year. The last time a pay increase was voted for was in 2016 when it was determined councillors would receive $18,840 and the mayor $41,090 each financial year. The vote to increase councillor fees was lost six votes to three.
Cr Sharon Tapscott, who voted for the rise, said her family business had been supplementing her income and residents with the "backing of independent wealth" were more likely to run for council. Cr Liz Seckold, who also voted for the fee rise, said the current pay does not encourage good candidates, and also makes it difficult for underprivileged residents to become involved in local government. Cr Russell Fitzpatrick said he has voted against a rise during his entire council career, and disagreed with the idea better pay would lure more talented residents.
"Everybody is talking about our Prime Minister and his extra $11,000, and it's no different," he said.
Cr Robyn Bain said she had initially thought the position was a volunteer role and that the pay "really disturbs" her superannuation, while Cr Mitchell Nadin said he feels "privileged" to have been elected to council, and that an increase should be considered next year. Cr Cathy Griff said she had spoken to two women recently who said they would consider running for council if the fees were increased.
Cr Tony Allen said there had been allegedly tens of thousands of dollars spent in dealing with code of conduct complaints, compounded by the as yet unknown cost of a private investigator looking into a recent leak of confidential information from inside council.
"This council has spent a lot of ratepayers' money on indulgences," he added.