Townsville City Council’s $163,000 spend on Brisbane-based media spinners Rowland under Federal Government spotlight. Picture: Zak Simmonds
Townsville City Council’s $163,000 spend on Brisbane-based media spinners Rowland under Federal Government spotlight. Picture: Zak Simmonds

Council spend on media spinners put under Federal microscope

TOWNSVILLE City Council's attempt to use disaster funding to pay for Brisbane-based media spinners has come under the Federal Government's microscope, as the Minister in-charge considers calling for a review of guidelines if required.

Natural Disaster and Emergency Management Minister David Littleproud revealed he had instructed the Home Affairs Department to investigate the details of whether council was allowed pay a communications company out of disaster relief funding.

It comes after the Townsville Bulletin revealed council had hired Brisbane-based crisis communications experts Rowland following the February floods to "provide strategic and tactical communication support" during the recovery phase and to "strengthen council's messaging to the community".

The total value of the contract was $163,000, which council proposes to take out of the $30 million in disaster funding given to it through joint State and Federal government relief assistance.

"As soon as I saw the report, I immediately asked Emergency Management Australia (within the Home Affairs Department) to look into the detail of whether this payment would be eligible," Mr Littleproud said.

 

Minister for Natural Disaster and Emergeny Management David Littleproud.
Minister for Natural Disaster and Emergeny Management David Littleproud.

 

"I want to clarify whether the current rules allowed public relations spin, as per the report.

"I'll review the guidelines if that needs to happen."

It is understood at this early stage the eligibility of the payment is unclear.

Meanwhile, the council has defended the blowout of a contract to spruik sprinklers.

The Townsville Bulletin yesterday revealed council's contract with company AEC to market its Water Smart Package had ballooned from $241,100 to $831,814 due to "variations to the initial scope of works".

Burdekin MP Dale Last blasted council for its priorities and said "every single rate payer should be disgusted" at the amount of money wasted.

He called on Natural Resources Minister Dr Anthony Lynham to demand a please explain from council and call in the QAO to investigate.

Burdekin MP Dale Last. Picture: Evan Morgan
Burdekin MP Dale Last. Picture: Evan Morgan

 

"I cannot see how $800,000 to promote this program is justifiable," Mr Last said.

"The money would be better spent on providing ratepayers with practical solutions."

"The Water Smart Package was always designed with a community education element in mind and we recognise that behavioural change is the toughest component of this," a council spokeswoman said.

"The project is solely funded by $10 million from the Queensland Government and we welcome any review by the Queensland Audit Office."

Dr Lynham brushed away Mr Last's criticism and reaffirmed that council was required to provide monthly progress reports about the Water Smart Package.

"I would expect my department would receive a comprehensive update on the uptake of the package and expenditure to date in the next monthly progress report," he said.

The council also defended not updating the public document that states outlines details of contracts above $200,000 in value.

The blowout of AEC's initial contract, awarded in November 2018, has not been included.

"Council updates its online register of contracts in accordance with the local government legislation every month - this includes details of new contracts awarded for a value of $200,000 or more and are published on Council's website shortly after the contract has been entered into," a spokeswoman said.

"Contracts are then managed by Council officers in accordance with applicable statutory requirements and any applicable government grant acquittal requirements."