Melbourne Lord Mayor Robert Doyle was officially sworn in this morning but appears to be standing firm in his refusal to relinquish his “day jobs” with Melbourne Health and management consultants The Nous Group. Aside from any arguments about conflicts of interest arising from holding three positions simultaneously, this raises questions about Doyle’s ability to run the country’s second biggest city as a three (or two)-day-a-week proposition.
Before the local poll Premier Brumby raised concerns about Doyle’s workload. On October 30 he said: “The lord mayor’s position is such an important position — it is, I would have thought, a full-time position.”
But Brumby has since toned down his rhetoric, reasoning yesterday that “if [Doyle] believes that he can satisfactorily perform both jobs then I’m comfortable with that,” and that “he’s just got jobs just like many other people who are lord mayors, have another job or another business interest.”
Parallels have been drawn between Doyle’s position and that of Sydney Mayor/State MP Clover Moore, who was more easily able to justify her ‘part-time’ status by pointing to her ability to streamline the overlapping responsibilities of local and state government. In her defence she noted that 30 of the 80 Sydney lord mayors since 1842 have been also members of state parliament — a Victorian parallel that ex-MP Doyle will no longer be able to make.
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If Doyle’s looking to meet the standards of other lord mayors, as per Brumby’s suggestion, he might find precedents in other states.
Perth Lord Mayor Lisa Scaffidi, a city councilor before her election to the top job, made a point to resign from her duties as Perth director of the Committee for Economic Development Australia in order to fulfill her duties as a “full-time mayor”. She said at the time of her election last year that she didn’t feel she’d be able to achieve her objectives without devoting all five weekdays to the role — and this in a city half the size of Melbourne.
Similarly, Adelaide chief robe-wearer Michael Harbison gave up a business career when elected in 2003 in order, as he says, to “be a full-time lord mayor”. If Doyle is still reluctant to follow these ethical models (which both meet Brumby’s original criteria for fulfilling the role of Lord Mayor), he may be interested instead in donating his full mayoral wages to charity through a salary trust, as Moore has been doing since her election in 2004.
What about Doyle’s perceived conflicts? While the media has been up in arms over the potential for clashes between Melbourne City Council’s planning responsibilities and Melbourne Health’s operations, less has been said about Nous, which is the regular recipient of a phalanx of state government contracts to conduct official reports and reviews, including this well-received study into greenhouse gas emissions. With deputy premier Rob Hulls also on board it’s looking like Doyle’s team in town hall will function as a compliant arm of state government with a keen eye on the tabloid media, as documented by Crikey on Tuesday.
But perhaps none of this actually matters. The current Australian indifference towards local government may condemn Doyle to a mainly ceremonial role anyway. State governments are slowly eating up the power and responsibilities of their municipal counterparts, while further up the food chain the Feds think they’re much better suited to taking care of traditional state government responsibilities like health and education. It seems it’s just too difficult for the citizenry to get too excited about roads, rates and rubbish.
Kevin “co-operative federalism” Rudd has made an attempt to reverse this through his recent announcement of $300 million for local councils, but a bit of spending to stimulate the economy probably isn’t going to get the punters excited about local government.
So watch this space to see what choice Robert Doyle makes. With denizens distracted by the hoards of bogans and bad buskers overrunning the city and members of his own ticket rebelling over his crazy plan to re-open Swanston St to traffic, now might be the best time for Doyle to sneak into an alleyway and execute a quiet backflip.