Cr Antonella Celi claimed more than $15,000 for child care over the 2012-16 council term, shire records reveal. At the minimum hourly charge of $31 an hour for a weekday, that totals nearly 485 hours claimed. Higher charges apply at weekends and public holidays.
The claims were legitimate under the category “Child Care Costs” that then applied. The latest Councillor Expenditure Policy (2016) retains the hourly rates of $31, $42 and $53 set back in August 2013 but changes various features of the policy, detailed below.
Child care expenses are not capped. Cr Celi was, until the recent election, the only councillor claiming in this expenditure category. At least one new councillor, Julie Edge (Watson ward) has a 14-month-old baby and it would not be surprising if several other young new councillors will also be entitled to claim when their spouse or partner is unavailable to care for the children.
The precise sum claimed by Cr Celi for the allowance is almost impossible to calculate down to the dollar from the shire’s book keeping method. Bandicoot’s best guess – an educated one, he modestly says – is $15,026.
The shire figures contain many claims recorded as “travel/childcare/parking” or “travel and childcare”. the highest claim is $1550 on 15 April last year for “Travel. Childcare” (see table), which Bandicoot divided equally into “travel” and “childcare” components, at $775 apiece.
See right-hand column in the accompanying table, which totals $5212.04.
This method is at best an educated stab at an accurate figure. Bandicoot believes the bulk of the money claimed in these instances would be for child care. Perhaps the shire will provide more accurate figures for the public.
Better still, it will tidy up its book keeping for the sake of transparency, allotting individual amounts to the right categories of spending: “Parking & Travel” and “Childcare” are provided as separate claims categories.
A small section of the shire accounts for Cr Celi displayed the Child Care claims (see top of table). It contained just 10 entries, totalling $9813.96, including $6982.30 annotated “transfer parking”, which Bandicoot found – and the table shows – had initially been wrongly recorded elsewhere.
Close study of the figures revealed four child care claims remained under the head “Parking & Travel”. A further 13 claims were under “Sundry Expenses”. Together they totalled $8192.15.
Where applicable, these sums were divided into either thirds or halves, in an effort to separate the claims into the various components. This produced a total of $5212.04, for an overall total of $15,026 – almost certainly well under the sum claimed for child care in the mixed claims. The underestimate could well be several thousand dollars.
The councillors’ entitlements under the expenditure category “Child Care Costs” were revised in this year’s new policy, which occurred after revelations of Cr Celi’s overspend of her Conferences and Seminars allowance by more than $9000. Her factional colleagues later declared by copuncil resolution there was no overspend. CEO Carl Cowie agreed with them.
The policy is to be revised again soon and recommendations will be brought back to council in mid-February 2017. It is anticipated that several recent generous changes will be closely examined, including the $10,000 “training” allowance and the large rise in private vehicle use reimbursement.
The six councillors who supported the additional $10,000 over four years argued that because the money was available did not mean that it needed to be spent, and much of it probably would not be spent. Bandicoot inferred from this argument that the money was essentially a discretionary sum.
Considering the odious comparisons being made against councillor expenses available in Kingston and Frankson, it would be prudent to abolish the additional $10,000.
The 2013 expenditure policy included training in the “Professional Development and Conferences and Seminars” category. Cr Celi made a number of claims for “education and training services”, including $2181.82 and $1559.09 in mid-2014 under the category “Conferences and Seminars”. Other amounts followed in July. She had been granted some $8400 in 2013 to undertake a local government diploma.
While the child care reimbursement figures were not revised this year, the description of those who can be hired to “babysit” was rewritten and a new provision was introduced, made for employment of “a live-in (professional) helper, such as a nanny, [when] required to work extra time at extra expense because of the Councillor’s duties” .
Confusingly, the section also states: “Reimbursement of child care costs will be available for immediate family only, i.e. where the Councillor or domestic partner is the primary care giver.”
It adds: “Child care costs are not eligible for reimbursement if paid to a person who normally or regularly lives with the Councillor”, then makes an exception – “except where a live-in (professional) helper, such as a nanny, is required…”
Whether this means that, say, a councillor’s suitably qualified mother can be employed to stay with a child or children overnight as a nanny is not clear to Bandicoot. Nor does the policy mention the rate, or the hours, for which a nanny will be paid.
Nor does it mention a cap for the amount that can be claimed for nanny services.
The 2013 policy explicitly banned family members working as child care employees.
It stated: “Child care costs are not eligible for reimbursement if claimed for child caring by a person who is immediate family (eg. partner, mother/father, sister/brother, grandmother/grandfather or sister in law/brother in law) or normally or regularly lives with the Councillor.”