Council allowance freeze as COVID-19 ‘message of support’ to Tasmanian ratepayers shot down

Tasmania’s Local Government Association (LGAT) has backflipped on suggestions councils consider a sector-wide allowance freeze in response to the coronavirus pandemic, after strong opposition.

The ABC can reveal LGAT president Christina Holmdahl wrote to councils in recent weeks, saying that while some councillors were individually choosing to forgo allowances due to the pandemic, it could be better to take a sector-wide approach to an allowance freeze.

Ms Holmdahl wrote that elected members “might contemplate forgoing their automatic increases next year [that is a freeze on allowances]”.

“I encourage you to explore this at your council, and if there is sufficient support we could progress as a motion through a LGAT general meeting,” correspondence seen by the ABC stated.

“It could be a very positive message of support for those in our community who have been financially impacted.”

But after receiving responses from Tasmanian councils, Ms Holmdahl moved to hose down the idea, discouraging them from bringing forward any motions on the issue.

“It is likely that any reporting on a failed motion around allowances would be quite negative.”

Christina Holmdahl said the suggestion had been “a very divisive issue”.(ABC News: Laura Beavis)

In Tasmania, councillor allowances are indexed each year.

The amount each councillor is entitled to varies; for example, a councillor at the Central Highlands Council would be entitled to an annual allowance of $9,546, Dorset councillors get $12,955, Northern Midlands councillors could receive up to $15,500 each year, and councillors and aldermen at Hobart and Launceston city councils are entitled to the highest allowances of $37,198.

Mayors and deputy mayors are entitled to additional allowances. At Hobart and Launceston, the additional mayoral allowance is $92,997.

‘I reckon it’s pretty unfair’

Dorset Mayor Greg Howard said six of his nine councillors had seen their businesses negatively affected because of the pandemic, with one forced to close.

Cr Howard said he told the LGAT that he would feel uncomfortable asking his councillors to take another financial hit.

“I think it was a thought bubble,” he said.

“If you’re a councillor who’s closed down or been severely affected or you’re a councillor who has lost your job and you’re out of work, I reckon it’s pretty unfair expecting to take another hit.

“Especially in the small councils, where the allowances are unacceptably low anyway.”

Ms Holmdahl told the ABC, based on the feedback to the suggestion, it was obvious there would not be majority support across the local government sector.

“I think it’s fair to say it’s been a very divisive issue,” she said.

“The best advice we could give our members was there were other avenues that could be pursued that would satisfy the individual elected councillors.”

Ms Holmdahl said LGAT had been advised a sector-wide freeze would also be difficult to implement and would require legislative change.

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