Travel expenses were a hot topic at Whitsunday Regional Council's latest meeting.
Travel expenses were a hot topic at Whitsunday Regional Council's latest meeting. Contributed

Councillors travel expenses prove a hot topic

A KNOWLEDGE and information forum set to take place in Cairns has sparked a Whitsunday Regional Council meeting debate over travel expenses.

The forum was a hot topic at the council meeting in Bowen on March 27 after councillor John Collins voiced his opposition to sending a councillor to the event.

He said he was "sick to death" of people coming to him and complaining about councillors travelling at the expense of ratepayers.

He said the travelling was just the tip of the iceberg and that concerns had been raised over vehicle use of council workers also.

"I have people approach me quite often and we really need to nail it in," he said.

Following the meeting, Cr Collins said that vehicle use needed to be looked at because people are seeing council vehicles utilised for personal use which reflects badly on the councillors.

He said it's an honour to represent the people and not a privilege.

"You've got ratepayers paying rates and they think their money is being wasted in places and I can understand their thinking," he said.

"I'll always be voting against it, but other councillors believe training sessions are good and they keep you up to date with different things."

Councillor Mike Brunker said there is a populist belief amongst the community that when councillors go away they are attending 'junkets.'

However he said if councillors don't attend these events they run the risk of becoming 'insulated' and out of touch.

Mayor Andrew Willcox backed the need to send councillors away saying "it's very important to keep the skill level up around the council table."

He used the Beautiful Bowen project as an example of an idea which had come from an interstate presentation he and the former council CEO had attended.

"We are elected to govern and represent our community and how we do that is to build up our intellect and make sure that we are doing the job properly," he said.

"I think if you look at what we've spent and hunt and gathered and brought back, I think its money well spent."

Councillor Ron Petterson said the ability to go away and network is invaluable, and the experience is not something you can get by sitting in a room once a week.

"I see these things as part of the job we put our hand up for and if we are going to do our job properly we should be doing them," he said.