THE Ballarat City Council will spend $35,000 on an overseas delegation that will see mayor John Burt and four other officials attend a five-day celebration in Japan next month.
Just weeks after Ballarat residents were burdened with a hefty rate rise, the council has been asked to scale down the trip, which was organised to mark the 25th anniversary of Ballarat’s sister city relationship with Japan’s Inagawa.
Ratepayers will pick up the tab for the official delegation of Cr Burt and Cr John Philips, chief executive officer Anthony Schinck, the council’s cultural partnerships officer and the Ballarat Citizen of the Year, with up to 25 self-funded community members joining them in Japan.
Mr Schinck justified the spend as part of an “an ongoing cultural exchange” with Inagawa that had been in place for 25 years.
Cr Burt also said it was the 25th anniversary of the relationship between the two cities.
“The city of Inagawa sends a delegation to Ballarat annually,” he said.
“We need to respond by sending a delegation this year. This relationship is a cultural and very valuable relationship.”
The Courier asked if the delegates would be flying economy or business class but the council’s only response was to send us a web address to the May 22 council minutes.
Former mayor David Vendy said it should be a maximum of two delegates attending, not five.
“Clearly you shouldn’t take five . . . it seems a junket to do that,” he said.
“In these days of rate increases, which Ballarat people can’t afford and the CEO stating they’re going to bring costs down, should they be spending that sort of money on it? I’m not sure.”
Council watcher Gary Fitzgerald also called on councillors to reassess the size of the contingent to be the mayor and citizen of the year.
He said the cost represented about 35 rate notices spent on one trip.
“It doesn’t have to be five people – five people is a junket,” he said.
“Get real councillors and tighten the spending belt like those who elected you have to do.”
The council’s trip itinerary shows the Ballarat delegation would arrive in Japan on October 31, meeting key people and host families, before attending a welcoming party in the evening.
Day two incorporates a visit to a local school, before an official meeting about the Sister City agreement and a memorial tree planting.
A tour of Kyoto is offered on day three, with a speech by Cr Burt at Inagawa Festival and the Inagawa International Association Party scheduled for day four.
The trip ends on November 4 with a 25th anniversary ceremony celebration banquet.
In 2008, Inagawa sent 31 delegates to Ballarat to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the relationship.
Since the signing of the relationship in 1988 a civic delegation has occurred every five years, alternating between Ballarat and Inagawa.