By Brendan Rees
Ratepayers will be billed a whopping $70,000 to send councillors and council staff on business trips to China and the US this year.
During a meeting held on 19 March, Casey Council endorsed a trip to New York for three councillors and two council staff to attend a Digital Workforce Summit in May – at a cost of $40,000.
Council also plans to spend $30,000 to send one councillor, one council officer and one consultant to attend a China delegation to focus on culture and education in June. The same group will again head to China in November.
Council’s annual report for 2017-18 revealed ratepayers forked out $123,358 for councillor car and travel expenses. Cr Sam Aziz who will travel to China and New York racked up $19,936 on travel costs alone last financial year.
Casey director of city planning and infrastructure Peter Fitchett said China presented a real opportunity for Casey.
“Delegations such as these give us the best chance of forming relationships and identifying opportunities to create trade, economic development and arts and cultural benefits for our region,” he said.
Cr Rosalie Crestani expressed her concerns about Casey’s relationship with China.
“China’s retraction of waste recycling services effecting Casey and all councils and their residents, is only an early sign of a souring relationship; it’s my gut feeling that something smells rotten in the state of China,” she said.
“That said, I love the Chinese people. We have many Chinese migrants and they are a lovely people with big hearts. They are welcome in Casey.”
Cr Aziz said council’s previous two trips to China “were by no means junkets.”
“I stand behind the money we are investing,” he said. “I’m taking time out of my studies, out of my family, out of my work for the sake of our city and its future.”
Cr Timothy Jackson, who will travel to New York, said: “It just so happens from a pre-planned trip I will actually already be in the United States when this conference is going on.”
Cr Rex Flannery said he “stood his ground” on not wasting money on overseas trips: “I want to see value for money and at the moment I’m not seeing that.”
Casey Residents and Ratepayers Association president Arvo Talvik said the trips were “typical” of Casey Council, adding “the expenses are not justifiable.”