Shire of Exmouth council spent $30K of ratepayers’ cash on booze

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Nick ButterlyThe West Australian
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Mr Fletcher uncovered that the shire had run up hefty drinks bills at Perth’s luxury Duxton Hotel.
Camera IconMr Fletcher uncovered that the shire had run up hefty drinks bills at Perth’s luxury Duxton Hotel. Credit: Supplied by Subject

The Shire of Exmouth has been hit with a booze ban after it emerged the authority, whose the council was suspended as part of a corruption probe, spent more than $30,000 of ratepayers’ money on alcohol in two years.

And the man appointed to administer the council has called for tougher action from the State Government amid concerns that former shire officials simply moved into senior jobs at other country shires.

The Barnett government suspended the entire Exmouth council in January after a Corruption and Crime Commission probe uncovered widespread financial mismanagement and problems in the handling of a bungled $30 million Royalties for Regions aquarium and science hub.

Former Court government chief of staff Ian Fletcher, appointed as commissioner to administer the council, said he had since discovered the shire had been “swimming in booze”.

Mr Fletcher said he had imposed a complete ban on alcohol in the workplace for all councillors and staff.

It is believed to be only the second time a booze ban has been imposed on a WA council.

As well as the Exmouth alcohol bill, Mr Fletcher uncovered that the shire had run up hefty drinks bills at Perth’s luxury Duxton Hotel.

VideoA $1.1 million aquarium, built to showcase the underwater treasures of Ningaloo Reef, is standing empty in Exmouth because of fears it is not safe to hold marine life.

“It’s appalling that ratepayers’ money was spent in this way,” Mr Fletcher said.

The West Australian understands the preliminary internal review examining alcohol expenditure estimated $33,800 was spent on alcohol over two years from January 1, 2015 to December 31 last year. This included $4600 in alcohol bills at the Duxton.

He raised concerns that officials who were sacked or who moved on after the CCC investigation had found new jobs at other regional councils.

Mr Fletcher said the WA Department of Local Government needed to crack down on officials who were able to move from shire to shire after being exposed doing the wrong thing.

“It concerns me greatly that people who have been dismissed from senior positions can get jobs at other councils,” he said.

He said the booze ban was akin to that imposed by most modern resources companies in the North West.

The aquarium and science hub, known as the Ningaloo Centre, was paid for with about $20 million in RFR funds, another $7 million though Federal government programs and $3 million from Lotterywest.

The West reported last month the centrepiece $1.1 million aquarium built as part of the complex was empty of water and fish amid concerns it was not safe to hold marine life. The full CCC report into the Exmouth Shire is expected this month.

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