Perth council U-turns on $114k trip to Croatia during European summer

Perth council U-turns on $114k trip to Croatia during European summer

A $114,000 trip for four Perth councillors to travel to Croatia on a European summer visit including an electronic music festival has been scrapped after the proposal outraged ratepayers.

The proposed junket for Cockburn Mayor Logan Howlett and three councillors would have included business class flights and accommodation for a week, capped at $500 a night per person.

It would have come less than a year after the City of Cockburn hosted councillors from the City of Split for the 25th anniversary of the sister cities.

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A council meeting on Tuesday night heard the Croatian delegation spent just under $20,000 on its trip Down Under, while Howlett’s trip to Split in May 2023, which he said was not an official sister cities journey, cost ratepayers about $14,000.

Following the visit by Croatian council members in October, Howlett received an open invitation from Split Mayor Ivica Puljak for a reciprocal trip, without a date attached.

The now-deferred proposal had said the Australian delegation’s dates were to coincide with the tour of Croatian Folkloric group Zagreb, which the council is subsidising.

The proposed trip also included a stop at the outdoor electronic musical festival ULTRA, which has dates across Europe in summer.

Cockburn residents, who were given a 4.5 per cent rate hike recently, were unimpressed with the proposed voyage.

One local told 9News they didn’t think it was “right” when “so many people are doing it tough”.

“If they’re about building relationships there’s nothing better than going to neighbouring countries such as Indonesia or even helping the Pacific Islands,” another said.

The unbudgeted proposal was debated at Tuesday night’s council meeting, where even the city’s own agenda paper warned “there’s a reputational risk given the community expectations on government expenditure”. 

Cr Phoebe Corke moved that the trip be deferred until an unspecified later date, arguing the expenditure couldn’t be justified during the cost-of-living crisis.

“We have no itinerary proposed for this, no specific invitation to any of us,” she said.

“I cannot see any public benefit whatsoever and the money can much be much better spent elsewhere.”

Cr Michael Separovich argued as the “token Croatian”, he was the only councillor who wouldn’t be “immediately punished by the ratepayers at the ballot box” for making the trip.

Cr Tarun Dewan moved a point of order that Separovich’s background wasn’t relevant, which the mayor accepted.

Separovich objected with a dissent motion but no one backed him up.

“How do I talk about a trip to Croatia without it being relevant that my background is that I’m Croatian? That’s going to be a difficult one, isn’t it,” he said.

Dewan was among those to argue against the motion, highlighting the importance of the cultural exchange for building relationships.

He argued there should be a report into the benefits of the previous trip and that the council should propose some sort of specific future plan, rather than just putting the trip off indefinitely.

The councillors were locked at five-all before Howlett cast the deciding vote, agreeing to defer the trip.

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