What councillors think of Tinkler's China trip offer

NATHAN Tinkler’s offer to fund a Newcastle City Council economic exchange trip has been described as ‘‘bizarre’’, ‘‘inappropriate’’ and ‘‘a joke’’ by Hunter mayors.

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The Newcastle Herald reported yesterday that Mr Tinkler had offered to bankroll a Newcastle council trip to China.

An email was sent to lord mayor John Tate on Thursday offering to pay the bill for a delegation to visit Yantai City in Shandong Province for four days.

Councillors had previously voted against funding the reported $15,000 trip for three councillors and two staff members at this week’s council meeting.

The aim of the delegation was to establish a relationship with Yantai City and build trade links between manufacturers.

Lake Macquarie mayor Greg Piper had no qualms about the validity of the trip but described the offer as ‘‘inappropriate’’.

‘‘If there is a serious role and benefit to council for the trip then council can easily afford it,’’ he said. ‘‘There shouldn’t be any need for private funding.’’

Maitland mayor Peter Blackmore agreed, and said he would be surprised if Newcastle City Council accepted the offer.

‘‘First and foremost you have to check on the probity of it. So many restrictions get placed on local government,’’ he said.

‘‘I doubt very much that Maitland City Council would accept such an offer.

‘‘You’ve got to be mindful of how it looks to the ratepayers.’’

Mayor of Port Stephens Bob Westbury said he could hardly believe the offer had been put.

‘‘[If Port Stephens City Council were to receive the offer] my reaction would be a look of dismay,’’ he said.

‘‘I would think it pretty rough to put that offer towards council. It’s a bit of a joke.’’

Newcastle lord mayor John Tate said yesterday there had been no further developments.

‘‘I don’t know what they [the councillors] are going to do, and it’s up to them, but the question of probity has to be taken into account,’’ he said. ‘‘The local government act has a council code of conduct that requires staff to meet certain obligations.

‘‘It seems unlikely council will make a decision to accept outside funding.’’

Newcastle council general manager Phil Pearce said he would ask for legal advice to go to councillors.

What Newcastle councillors said

Aaron Buman: ‘‘Why is it so important for us to go over there? I need to know more of the details before making a decision.’’

Sharon Claydon: ‘‘I’m extremely cautious of the idea of a private individual funding council. I will be seeking advice from the general manager.’’

Michael Osborne: ‘‘I’d like to accept his offer [but] there are more worthwhile things we could use that generous offer for other than councillors jaunting off to China.’’

Tim Crakanthorp: ‘‘It’s very generous but the public perception on any level of government accepting such payments would be negative, so I won’t be supporting it.’’

Scott Sharpe: ‘‘I don’t believe we can accept it, but when the most successful businessman in Newcastle thinks it’s a good idea then why wouldn’t we go?’’

Graham Boyd: ‘‘The general manager is going to give us legal advice on the matter so I’ll wait before making judgment.’’

Mike King: ‘‘I don’t know whether it’s appropriate but if I was to go on the trip I’d pay my own way.’’

Nuatali Nelmes: ‘‘We are supportive of starting a relationship with Yantai but it’s not a great year for council, because of our budget deficit, to send over a delegation.’’

Bob Cook: ‘‘I’m not keen on us using his money but I do believe council should use council’s money to send over a delegation.’’

John Tate: ‘‘The question of probity has got to be taken into account.’’

Mike Jackson: ‘‘I’d say thank you but no thanks. The trip to China is important enough that we should pay for it ourselves.’’

Shayne Connell: ‘‘Council appreciates the offer but I think it would be more appropriate if council funds the trip itself.’’

* Brad Luke was away on holiday.

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