They follow 92 days of private hearings, which commenced on 21 November 2018, and the collection, assessment and analysis of literally millions of documents.
The public hearings involved the examination of 23 witnesses and approximately 4,000 pages of additional transcript.
Though Counsel Assisting, Philip Urquhart, emphasised that his observations made in closing were not, and should not be inferred to be findings that the Inquiry has made or will make, he noted that:
- From the evidence heard, it may be open for the Inquiry to find that elected members improperly or unlawfully manipulated the City’s electoral process;
- Evidence suggested elected members may have failed to consider matters on their merits and/or took into account improper or irrelevant considerations when performing their responsibilities and making decisions as Council;
- The Inquiry unearthed evidence revealing that elected members appear to have failed to properly and carefully discharge their obligations in a number of respects including the declaration of financial interests; using their position for their own
personal benefit; and, in at least one case, an Elected Member using their title and prestige in business dealings to earn commission payments and attract or impress clients.
In relation to the City’s administration, Mr Urquhart noted:
- There were fractious and hostile relationships between members of Council, among the Executive Leadership Group and between elected members and senior employees … the level of animosity within the City of Perth that was, at times, palpable;
- There is evidence suggesting that a majority of the Executive Leadership Group improperly activated a Crisis Management Plan which significantly destabilised the City.
“What this all meant was that, as of 27 February 2018, key relationships within the City had disintegrated. The perfect storm that had been forming for some time had finally peaked,” said Mr Urquhart.
Reflecting on the past 40 days of public hearings, Mr Urquhart made clear some of the challenges and frustrations experienced by the Inquiry including witnesses who:
- did not answer questions directly or responsively;
- admitted to forging documents produced to the Inquiry;
- admitted being dishonest in their evidence to the Inquiry;
- attempted to obstruct the Inquiry by inappropriately discussing their evidence with other witnesses still to be called; and
- in at least one case, failed to produce documents or information required to be produced, by the Inquiry, using its powers under the Royal Commission Act.
“It smacked of witnesses showing an appalling lack of respect to the functions of the Inquiry,” said Mr Urquhart. “It was as if they were a law unto themselves and if the actual law did not suit their agenda then it could be flouted.
“It was conduct that had the effect of impeding and frustrating the Inquiry’s work,” he added with a warning that “There are serious consequences for such conduct which may yet still be felt by those who engaged in it.”
Commissioner Tony Power said the Inquiry has been conducted against the background of the State Government’s legislative reform program for local government – a reform program which he said was well overdue and much needed.
“The work of this Inquiry will complement and inform that program in a direct and meaningful way,” he said.
“The terms of reference make it abundantly clear that there is much to investigate, examine and report on. The Inquiry and its officers have and will continue to undertake these tasks with the seriousness, thoroughness and rigour which they deserve.”
In closing the public hearings, Commissioner Power thanked all who had assisted including its own investigative, administrative and legal officers, past and present.
The Inquiry into the City of Perth’s final report is due to delivered in early 2020 and will include recommendations to improve not just the City of Perth but the operations of all local governments in WA.
The report will not be finalised until those parties against whom there are adverse findings are afforded the opportunity to respond.
The Inquiry will also consider referring matters that have arisen from its investigations to regulatory bodies and enforcement agencies.
Please note, closing addresses will be made available in full online.
Telephone 0418 918202