Councillors walk out

Tari JeffersSouth Western Times
Bunbury City councillors were debating the BRAG governance report when the walk out occurred on Tuesday night.
Camera IconBunbury City councillors were debating the BRAG governance report when the walk out occurred on Tuesday night. Credit: Tari Jeffers

An unprecedented walk out by three councillors cut short Tuesday’s Bunbury City Council meeting as numbers dropped below a quorum.

Bunbury Mayor Gary Brennan described the actions of councillors Brendan Kelly, Michelle Steck and Karen Steele as appalling and something he had never heard of happening before.

“That was disgraceful,” Mr Brennan told the South Western Times after the meeting.

The council was debating the Bunbury Regional Art Gallery governance review when Cr Steck spoke against the motion.

With Mr Brennan’s permission, Cr Kelly then spoke in favour of one of the agenda item’s recommendations, but against the other two.

Cr Steele attempted to do the same but Mr Brennan did not allow it and moved to close the debate, at which stage councillors Steck and Steele walked out.

Cr Kelly then moved to cancel Mr Brennan’s decision to close debate and after the vote failed, Cr Kelly also left, leaving the council with only six of the required seven members.

“Elected members are elected to represent the community and to contribute to a robust debate is always healthy,” Mr Brennan said.

“When an elected member doesn’t achieve the outcome they’re looking for, they should still represent their community and stay in council.”

Speaking after the meeting, Cr Kelly said the walk out was a matter of respect.

“Rightly or wrongly, we voted with our feet and call it a protest, because that’s what it was,” he said. “We’re saying no, if you don’t show some respect to your councillors who have been elected to the ratepayers in the City of Bunbury, then don’t expect us to show that same respect to you.”

Cr Steck’s concern with the BRAG governance review was the change in the funding model, in which the council now has to apply to the State Government.

“Since 1985, it was a guaranteed agreement from the Western Australian Art Gallery that Bunbury would not have to compete against any of the other regional galleries,” she said.

Cr Steele said she walked about because she was not able to speak.

“We as a city are always whingeing that when we have regional centres, we lose a lot of funding,” she said.

“Tonight, we had the opportunity to go back to a place of secure funding.”

The council received $170,000 a year for BRAG, with funding under that model to end on June 30, 2020.

Mr Brennan said the city had submitted an application to the Government for increased funding for three years from 2020-21.

“The State Government funding has changed where it is competitive,” he said.

“We are the regional art gallery and I’d be amazed if the State Government withdrew its financial report to the Bunbury Regional Art Gallery.

“It provides a whole raft of opportunities, exhibitions, activities and events that cater to the entire South West.”

The agenda item will resume at the next council meeting.

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