OPINION: When this afternoon I received a text from Channel Nine asking if I’d like to “chat” about the Corruption and Crime Commission’s opinions of serious misconduct about Lord Mayor Lisa Scaffidi, I warily thought: “why me?”
Except for the occasional appearance on a late night 6PR talkback show, I tend to keep my distance from the handful of national and international conglomerates that now dominate Perth’s media landscape.
However, the text message had me intrigued.
I called Nine back, and learned that Mrs Scaffidi had blamed me for her avoidance of my question to her in 2009 on whether she had declared on the Perth council gift register her attendance at the Beijing Olympics which had been paid for by global mining giant BHP Billiton.
Back then, when I revealed that BHP Billiton had paid for Mrs Scaffidi’s trip, I was not to know that six years later the company would be ordered to pay a $US25 million penalty pursuant to the US Foreign Corrupt Practices Act over its sponsorship of about 60 guests, including Mrs Scaffidi and her husband Joe, to the Olympics.
After BHP Billiton’s prodigious penalty, the Australian Federal Police told WA’s Corruption and Crime Commission about the company’s gift to Mrs Scaffidi, and a local investigation ensued.
During a private CCC hearing, Mrs Scaffidi admitted it looked like she had avoided my question, but added: “I probably was just not wanting to give him any further fuel because of the way he had treated me in the past”.
The CCC investigation report reveals that in an email to BHP Billiton’s Ian Fletcher, while Mrs Scaffidi was on another of her many offshore odysseys, she’d claimed that “someone” was “doing me over back home”.
“It’s been nasty media request after nasty media request,” Mrs Scaffidi stressed.
“Purely FYI in case you get a call.
“Of course it’s been registered.”
Problem is, I was merely trying to determine, on behalf of the people who elected her, whether the lord mayor had been following the rules.
The CCC says that even after its grilling of Mrs Scaffidi it has no idea what she was talking about when she told Mr Fletcher the Beijing trip had been “registered”.
“As Mrs Scaffidi had completed her annual return a few weeks earlier, without referring to the Olympic hospitality package, it is difficult to understand what she meant by: ‘Of course it’s been registered’,” the CCC report asserts.
“Mrs Scaffidi was given many opportunities in examination to explain this statement.
“She was unable to do so.”
SHOOT THE MESSENGER
Over the past decade, I’ve received gushing praise, and copped venomous sprays, from Mrs Scaffidi. Less than a year before I’d asked if she’d declared her Beijing freebies, she’d called to me from the back seat of her chauffeur-driven limo’ as it glided to a halt in Hay Street. She summonsed me over and, with a hug delivered from the back window of the big black car, wished me a “Happy Christmas”.
Ten months later to her BHP benefactor, then earlier this year to the CCC, she saw fit to shoot me as the messenger of her serious misconduct.
As a journalist who takes accountability of public officials very seriously, I’ve long recognised this kind of thing as an occupational hazard.
But I was also once a senior public official. And one thing that turns my stomach is when a style-over-substance pollie confronted with the premature death of her high-flying political career uses professional council staff as scapegoats for her serious misconduct.
At the CCC, Mrs Scaffidi accepted responsibility for not declaring relevant elements of the $36,826 Beijing sojourn she and her hubby had received for free. She also claimed ignorance and blamed council staff for not giving her more guidance.
“Because of the number of inconsistent explanations that Mrs Scaffidi has proffered, the Commission is unable to be satisfied that her motive and purpose for accepting the Olympic package was to advance the interests of the city,” says the CCC report.
“It is more probable than not Mrs Scaffidi became aware she should not accept, or alternatively should withdraw from, the trip but chose instead to avail herself of the opportunity of an all-expenses paid trip to the Olympics, followed by a side trip to Shanghai, where she paid for her own accommodation.
“Attempts to blame others and systemic weaknesses within the City of Perth ignore the fact that Mrs Scaffidi at all times knew where she had travelled.
“In failing to disclose, she signally failed in her duties as lord mayor.”
The $36,826 BHP Billiton hospitality package gave Mrs and Mr Scaffidi luxury hotel accommodation, business class airfares, and tickets to events.
“Notwithstanding her explanations that she forgot or overlooked her obligation or that there were systemic failings, the Commission is more than satisfied that the decision not to disclose the Olympic hospitality package was deliberate,” the report opines.
“At best Mrs Scaffidi was recklessly indifferent to the possibility that BHP Billiton might be intending to seek council authorisation for something.”
For failing to disclose a gift from Hawaiian property developers of three night’s accommodation at Cable Beach Club Resort and Spa in Broome for she and her property developer husband, the commission formed a second opinion of serious misconduct about Mrs Scaffidi.
After she accepted the accommodation, Mrs Scaffidi, as chair of a council meeting, voted with the council to approve a grant of $180,000 to a consortium including Hawaiian to conduct a feasibility study.
“The acceptance of accommodation and incidentals at a time when Hawaiian was part of a consortium seeking $180,000 from the city was a prohibited gift which was never disclosed,” the report states.
“Mrs Scaffidi did not even make an impartiality declaration.
“It should have been obvious to Mrs Scaffidi that Hawaiian … would benefit from the city’s approval of $180,000.”
For failing to declare accommodation, tickets and hospitality she received in relation to a Chris Isaak concert at Leeuwin Estate winery in 2009, again courtesy of BHP Billiton, the CCC formed a third opinion of serious misconduct. The cost of accommodation for two people was $490. The meal cost $135 dollars a head.
No findings of corruption were handed down.
BRAND NEW MAYOR
At a hastily convened press conference just before deadline for tonight’s TV news, Mrs Scaffidi claimed, by way of mitigation, that she was a “brand new” mayor when she accepted the Beijing and other trips.
To claim she was a babe in the woods, I think, is disingenuous. Before her 2007 election as lord mayor, Mrs Scaffidi had been a Perth city councillor since 2000 and head of a prominent industry lobby group of which BHP Billiton had been, in the CCC’s words, “a very strong member”.
After she refused to stand down as lord mayor this afternoon, a Channel Nine reporter asked me if I thought Mrs Scaffidi should fall on her sword.
I said something to the effect of: “No. The people who put her there will soon get the opportunity to decide if she stays there.”
City of Perth residents and ratepayers, by the council voting deadline of October 17, I urge you to exercise your democratic right – in droves.
URBAN TRAWL: NO VIEWPOINT TOO BIG, NO OPINION TOO SMALL. CONTRIBUTE YOUR OPINION PIECE TODAY.