Mayor's declaration once again under scrutiny

Rowena Abbey’s dual roles as a councillor and company director are still under scrutiny. The Yass Valley mayor was criticised at last year’s council election for not accurately disclosing details on her candidate information sheet. The form divulges pecuniary and other interests.

The criticism came from council candidate Rebecca Duncan, who questioned the transparency of Cr Abbey’s conflicts of interest as a company director when the mayor’s form noted she was not a developer. Cr Abbey denied providing false information and sought legal advice, saying the form was “the correct decision at the time”.

A spokesperson for the Office of Local Government says that, under clause 359 of the Local Government (General) Regulation 2005, it is an offence for a person to knowingly make a false statement in a paper relating to an election or poll under the Act. Offences under clause 359 could be prosecuted by the relevant election manager.

A property developer is defined as a person engaged in a business that regularly involves making planning applications by, or on behalf of, the person in connection with the development of land, with the ultimate purpose of sale or lease for profit, the spokesperson said.

Cr Abbey is a director of Bellvale Cattle Company, one of the developers of the South Eastern Livestock Exchange (SELX). Bellvale also owns a share in a second company, Yass Industrial Park, which in December 2016 submitted a development application for a North Yass service centre to Yass Valley Council.

“At the time of the election, there was no development on the cards,” Cr Abbey said this week. “I would have ticked the other box if that had been the case.”

Since the service centre DA submission, Cr Abbey has amended her public information as a councillor. She said her position as a company director would not interfere with council processes; if anything, it would subject the company’s DAs to closer scrutiny, and she would continue the practice of absenting herself from council’s DA process.

Ms Duncan said Cr Abbey “has access to information, staff and other councillors that other developers and the public do not have”.

“People are sick of this type of self-interest at all levels of government,” Ms Duncan said.

“We are entitled to expect our elected officials to have the highest standards of credibility."