Ipswich councillors Nicole Jonic, Russell Milligan and Andrew Fechner.
Ipswich councillors Nicole Jonic, Russell Milligan and Andrew Fechner.

Claims of ‘part time’ councillors on $120k plus ‘ludicrous’

IPSWICH Mayor Teresa Harding has slammed accusations that fellow councillors are working “part-time” while collecting huge salaries as “absolutely ludicrous”.

Councillors earn a base salary of $122,421 on top of super payments of at least $11,000 a year and a car allowance worth $19,500.

Deputy Mayor Marnie Doyle earns slightly more and Cr Harding takes home $204,000 a year, or almost $4000 a week, on top of $19,300 in super and a vehicle allowance.

Ipswich mayor Teresa Harding said claims councillors were only working part-time were ‘absolutely ludicrous’.
Ipswich mayor Teresa Harding said claims councillors were only working part-time were ‘absolutely ludicrous’.

The cost of councillor support officers to ratepayers is set to top $1 million with 14 positions ultimately to be filled.

Three councillors included income from other work as part of their register of interests.

This includes Division 3 Councillor Andrew Fechner through his family’s hospitality business, Division 2 Councillor Nicole Jonic through her accounting firm and Division 4 Councillor Russell Milligan through his work as an NBN contractor.

Councillors must declare any sources of income more than $500, with their total salary set by the Local Government Remuneration and Discipline Tribunal.

Cr Harding said there was nothing in the Local Government Act which stated councillors could not work other jobs or be involved in community groups.

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“I’d say around Australia most councillors do actually have other jobs,” she said.

“I do want to be really clear; none of the (Ipswich) councillors are part-time.

“Our board responsibilities are probably 15 hours a week but obviously working with residents, following up on complaints and assisting residents, that’s the part that’s taking at least 30 hours plus a week for all the councillors.

“I’d say the minimum hours the councillors are working are 50 hours a week and so they should.

“We do get paid well and all of us are very passionate and that’s why we ran.”

The QT reached out to councillors Jonic, Fechner and Milligan to explain their extra incomes.

Cr Jonic, who chairs the Economic and Industry Development Committee said she was often working 40 to 50 hours a week in her role as a councillor.

She established the NKT Tax Accountants firm in Goodna, from which she still earns an income as the owner.

Division 2 councillor Nicole Jonic.
Division 2 councillor Nicole Jonic.

“I made the commitment soon after being elected as a councillor to restructure and step back, offering a partner position in my firm and employing additional staff,” she said.

“Previously, I ran my own accountancy practice, which I built from scratch; an achievement of which I am very proud.

“Owning a small business for such a long time gives me a different perspective and the ability to contribute to council policy in a meaningful way.

“I am not a career politician and I understand the highs and lows of charting your own course.

“Our trusted team run the business in my absence to ensure that I can serve my community and fulfil my duties.

“Alternatively, I could have closed the business down and laid off four hardworking people in the middle of the COVID-19 lockdown, which is untenable.

“It disappoints me that there are those who will go out of their way to cut people down who are simply striving to do their best and give it all they’ve got.”

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Cr Milligan said he finished work as a self-employed contractor for NBN in February last year prior to being elected.

“I declared additional income as a self-employed telecommunications technician on my register of interests as there were still outstanding payments to be received from works performed prior to (then),” he said.

“These payments were received during this financial year and to ensure I was compliant with my legislative obligations I included it on my register.”

Cr Milligan, who is chair of the Environment and Sustainability Committee, said he was working more than 60 hours a week in his role as councillor.

Division 3 councillor Russell Milligan.
Division 3 councillor Russell Milligan.

The former soldier said he was aware of some misunderstanding from residents about a ladder attached to his car with his name and council logo also on the side of the ute.

“I confirm that it is my personal privately-owned vehicle,” he said.

“I had this vehicle fitted out for my previous role as a telecommunications technician.

“While it does resemble council vehicles, it is not part of that fleet.

“I still carry the ladder on my car because it is the best location to store it as I don’t have any available space to store it off my vehicle.

“There are no rolls of cable or consumables on or in my vehicle. It is used for the purpose of my mobile council office.”

Cr Fechner said his days as a councillor were “packed” and he would only spend up to five hours a week doing bookwork for his family’s business.

They operate the Heisenberg Haus restaurant in the top of town but their Tighty Whities Cafe closed permanently just before Christmas.

Cr Fechner’s parents manage the restaurant full-time.

Division 3 councillor Andrew Fechner.
Division 3 councillor Andrew Fechner.

“Very occasionally, I may step in behind the bar if the restaurant is particularly busy,” he said.

“Given the new councillors were elected during COVID-19 lockdown conditions, initially no action was required given the restrictions on the hospitality industry.

“However, once these restrictions lifted and patronage began to recover, additional staff, including a senior staff member, were employed to assist my parents manage the restaurant.

“My mother now manages front of house for the restaurant full time.

“My councillor commitments meant I could no longer dedicate the time required to keep (Tighty Whities) going.”

Cr Harding said all of her fellow councillors were working hard and she appreciated the wide range of experience in her team.

“I would hate to be mayor looking across at councillors who are career politicians where everyone there has had 20 or 30 or 40 years as a politician,” she said.

“I think it’s really important we have people from all walks of life.

“I’m quite proud of the fact that this council is quite balanced gender wise. It’s the first time having a female dominated council but also we have councillors in their 20s, 30s, 40s, 50s, 60s and 70s.

“Most of them are working six days a week.

“I know people don’t like hearing about elected reps working hard hours but we’re not complaining, we love it.”

Read more stories by Lachlan McIvor here.

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