While Councillor Fiona Snedden wants the City of Melbourne to build her a beach on the banks of the Yarra to remind her of Paris, Councillor Brian Shanahan has been busy building bridges between the town hall and the French village of Villers-Bretonneux.

For the first time since the end of the Great War, an ANZAC Day dawn service was held at Villers-Bretonneux — attended by the Minister for Veterans’ Affairs, Leader of the State Opposition, Premier of Western Australia and the Australian Ambassador — in honour of the 10,770 Australian servicemen who died on the battlefields of the Somme, Arras, halting the German advance of 1918 and spearheading the final allied advance to victory.

The visiting representatives were joined on the pilgrimage by Melbourne City Council’s Councillor Shanahan who, in a ostentatious display of dignity, solemnly shuttled in a chauffeur- driven limousine between wreath-laying ceremonies and his château outside Paris, clocking up more than 700 kilometres in just two days.

Unfortunately, the limousine and driver Councillor Shanahan found so invaluable to his mission blew his pre-approved budget for the detour to his holiday by almost $3,000.00, according to the travel report he presented to the Finance and Governance committee last week. Helpfully, he also tabled a DVD and a copy of the Villers-Bretonneux ANZAC Day Commemorative Events 2008 program.

You might think that, as chair of the committee, Councillor Shanahan would have excused himself from voting to accept his own report, but you’d be wrong.

In the end, it didn’t matter. Without seeing an invoice, his fellow committee members voted almost unanimously to, “approve the variance of $2,990.87 between estimated and actual costs associated with Councillor Shanahan’s travel while expressing concern at the high cost of car and driver hire”.

Councillor Shanahan explained he had simply forgotten to ask who was paying for the limousine service when it had been arranged for him by the Australian embassy.

The dissenting committee member asked unsuccessfully to see the invoice. Embarrassed council officers had to explain they hadn’t thought to bring it with them.

Peter Fray

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