The minutes of the recent Audit Committee Meeting, held on March 8, 2021, reveal some extraordinary events which are of deep concern to me.

The extreme secrecy coupled with the attendance of an unusually large number of non-committee members, some of whom addressed the meeting, are of deep concern.

Those minutes not kept secret stated attendance as follows: Audit Committee four members. Council administration: one administrator chair (apologies), one CEO (apologies), three directors, three senior managers, one procurement coordinator, one risk project officer. Other: one internal auditor RSD audit, two representatives of the Victorian Auditor General’s Office, one senior advisor from RSM, provider of audit, tax and consulting services (incl. to IBAC).

What a meeting it was!

The In-Committee Section declared that the committee received a verbal update from the acting CEO on a Fraud and Corrupt Conduct Report (further referred to in Section 1.5).

Administrators, are these extremely serious matters? Why the extreme secrecy with nothing communicated to the municipal community? Five separate sessions in one meeting, officially classified as secret, conducted with verbal reports ensuring no written information is available. What about ‘openness and transparency’?

Last year this council received 17 FOI requests and managed to supply part details for only two. Seriously? FOI requests for simple caravan park costs are refused. Simple Karmai Children’s construction FOI requests are refused. One request was refused because, “unfortunately, the amended request does not provide a sufficiently precise description to enable the council, as a matter of practicality, to locate the documents you seek”. Seriously, honestly? A question vetted by a specialist professional with a number of degrees, including a Masters in English?

To add insult to injury, evidence on record shows that the FOI officer previously has located the documents.

I think on display is a culture in need of drastic reform. Deep concerns related to the rapidly increasing employee numbers and the horrendous costs for ratepayers must be addressed.

The annual report June 30, 2019, declared 252.5 full-time equivalents (FTE), and promised reduction to 246.8 FTEs. With millions of dollars annually spent on improved information technology and purported management expertise, this should be reduced to 220 FTEs and easily many more.

Instead, the administrators have announced this will rocket to an unbelievably bad 271.4 FTEs at a whopping cost to ratepayers of $30 million!

Repeated requests for a proper employee establishment schedule are ignored.

Where do we go from here? I sincerely hope that incoming councillors will have the courage to deal with the huge problems confronting them and make drastic improvements for the sake of ratepayers and residents.

Gus Blaauw, Venus Bay.