Opinion

Council junkets tough sell

by
March 20, 2018

Junkets are a difficult sell.

They often cost plenty of cash and look glitzy, while the benefits, perceived and real, often are not visible until years later, and even then, sometimes difficult to pin exactly.

In the case of tonight’s Greater Shepparton City Council meeting, the council will decide whether it makes sense for the city’s mayor to join a delegation to China, Hong Kong and perhaps south-east Asia.

The mission is multi-pronged, but the main purpose appears to be to capitalise on previously set-up relationships and participate in from what all reports is a hugely valuable fruit industry trade expo to be represented at.

The total price tag? About $36500.

Whether Mayor Kim O’Keeffe joins the delegation or not, background to tonight’s meeting indicates the visit will be forging ahead, likely at a fairly similar cost to this.

More than $10000 alone is being spent on participation at the Hong Kong expo.

No doubt these visits have value. But perhaps it would be ideal for the council to in future get on the front foot and share the value of these visits.

In the council’s risk assessment of the decision to come before councillors tonight, officers assess the likelihood of ‘‘public criticism’’ as ‘‘likely’’.

The mitigation action suggested? Communicate the purpose of the visit and the benefits of attending.

The decision for the council to appear at the expo and for a delegation to travel to Asia could be a foregone conclusion already decided, with the only question really remaining as to whether Cr O’Keeffe joins.

Asia, and in particular China, offers a massive opportunity for the Goulburn Valley to sell its top-notch local produce, and will continue to be a focus for this region in coming years.

And visits such as this are important in ensuring the right relationships are forged and channels are put in place for that to happen.

The benefits for positive relationships with key contacts in Asia cannot be understated and will continue to be valuable over the next decade and beyond.

One then wonders why the council appears reluctant to communicate with ratepayers its participation in the expo, the reasons why it is important and the benefits of this money being spent.

We are not pretending that is an easy task. But when ratepayers’ money is being spent to do so, it is in the public interest.

Let’s hope the council can redouble efforts to communicate the value of forging bonds across Asia from visits such as this one in future.

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