Resignation of the Mayor of the City of Cockburn

Western Australian Local Government Minister, John Castrilli said he believes mayor Lee had no option but to resign from his position as Mayor given the findings of the Corruption and Crime Commission report into his activities and the damage his continuing role as Mayor was having on the reputation of the City of Cockburn. The minister spoke with Mr Lee last evening and requested his resignation. The minister advised Mr Lee that he would suspend the council should the resignation not be received this morning. The minister said "I had already put in place the necessary administrative arrangements, including approaches to three potential Commissioners as well as instructions for executive orders to be prepared for signing by the Governor." Clearly, the actions of Mr Lee will not result in the State Government to resort to the need to suspend the entire council. This outcome is entirely consistent with the approach that I have taken on this issue since the initial CCC report was presented to the Parliament. I called for the resignation of Mr Lee and that has happened today. I would have preferred this outcome to have occurred earlier, but the process of the CCC and the review by the Parliamentary Inspector took longer than expected. Having said this, however, the mayors's resignation today has been too long in coming. He had the opportunity to restore integrity to the Cockburn City Council in September last year when I called on him to resign. Ratepayers of the City of Cockburn could be forgiven for being a tad cynical about the way in which Mr Lee has conducted himself over previous months and the seeming opportunistic way in which he has announced his resignation today.

Mr Lee’s resignation is entirely appropriate given that the CCC concluded that Stephen Lee had engaged in misconduct by not disclosing impartiality interests on four occasions when matters concerning the developer Australand were considered by the City of Cockburn Council when Mr Lee was present. And that he failed to declare contributions by Australand to his Mayoral campaign in an annual return. Mr Lee subsequently requested the Parliamentary Inspector to review the process undertaken by the CCC in reaching their opinion. I spoke and wrote to Mr Lee informing him that he should stand aside as the Mayor of Cockburn while the Parliamentary Inspector’s report was undertaken. My intention was to remove Mr Lee from any decision-making role as quickly as possible. At no time did I suggest to Mr Lee that he would be returning to the position of Mayor until I had made a decision. I received the Parliamentary Inspector’s report on December 24 and it identified some concerns with the CCC report. Despite the concerns raised by the Parliamentary Inspector’s report, the CCC maintains that it did in fact take into consideration all such circumstances when reaching its opinion. As a result, I sought legal advice which I received yesterday afternoon. That advice indicated the divergent views between the CCC and the Parliamentary Inspector relate more to the process of the CCC forming an opinion of misconduct and whilst open to argument, could not be interpreted as an exoneration of Mr Lee. The facts stated within the CCC report demonstrated the relationship between Mr Lee and Mr Lewis, a senior member of Australand a developer in the City of Cockburn, and PR firm Riley Mathewson, Mr Lee’s 2005 mayoral campaign managers. Putting aside the financial contribution made to Mr Lee’s 2005 mayoral campaign by Australand, the fact that Mr Lee did not disclose that relationship with Mr Lewis of Australand in council decisions relating to Australand matters before council, was a significant concern to me.

Under the Western Australian Local Government Act of 1995, I did not have the power to take action against an individual elected member for events such as this prior to August 2007, so if Mr Lee had not resigned then I would have had no alternative but to suspend all the City of Cockburn councillors. What is important is that the people of the City of Cockburn have confidence in its elected council to provide for the good governance of that city, in a transparent and accountable manner. Mr Lee’s resignation goes someway to ensuring that.

The minister has concerns about council’s plans for a rushed election to be held in the first week of March which, in my view, fails to give potential candidates adequate time to consider nominating and putting together an effective campaign. I would expect that any candidates who intend to stand for the position of Mayor do so with an absolute commitment to the ratepayers of Cockburn and a commitment to open, honest and accountable governance.