By Cam Lucadou-Wells
In a kind of ‘alms-race’, Springvale Central Ward frontrunners Minh Tran and Richard Lim are pledging to donate tens of thousands of dollars from their councillor allowances.
If elected to Greater Dandenong Council, accountant and ALP member Mr Tran has promised to donate half of his annual councillor allowance throughout the next four-year term.
Mr Tran nominated Monash Heart Hospital as a beneficiary of 25 per cent of his allowance, and another 25 per cent for “churches, temples and community groups and associations in Springvale Central”.
“For years I have been a volunteer accountant for a Buddhist temple, a Catholic church, and other Springvale community groups.
“Now I will do more.”
Philanthropist, ALP member and pharmacist Mr Lim has not only matched but upped the ante.
Mr Lim pledged 100 per cent of his councillor income to Monash Children’s Hospital and local organisations in need of “urgent” funds.
Currently, councillors receive a $31,444 annual allowance – so Mr Tran’s benevolence equates to about $62,800 over the four-year term.
If elected, Mr Lim would donate $125,600 during the four year period.
Departing councillor Matthew Kirwan said he was worried about the precedent set by the gestures.
“If people think that there is an expectation that election candidates donate all or part of their allowance to charity then you will get a council dominated by wealthy ratepayers.”
Cr Kirwan also wondered if Mr Lim and Mr Tran knew how many hours were required to do the role.
“It’s sad to see these debates every election.
“The average councillor in Victoria does 20 hours a week – often more – overseeing budgets of hundreds of millions of dollars and organisations of up to 1000 employees.
“I have had a number of residents who would make outstanding councillors – because they would be put in the hours in – but literally can’t afford too because they have large mortgages and families to support.
“This idea that councillors should get paid a small allowance dates back to the 1950’s when it was just businessmen who often ran for council and literally turned up to one meeting once a month plus a few community events.”
On top of the allowance, councillors are entitled to claim for expenses including training and conferences, IT, travel expenses and vehicle mileage.
Travel expenses include airfares, taxi/train fares and accommodation and meals.
In 2019-’20, mayor Jim Memeti claimed $4,097 mainly on travel expenses and training/conferences, and former mayor Roz Blades claimed $1,171 mainly on airfares.
Councillors Maria Sampey ($7999), Youhorn Chea ($7930), Sophie Tan ($5776), Matthew Kirwan ($4578), Angela Long ($2342) and Sean O’Reilly ($1914) claimed the highest expenses bill.
The smallest claims were by Tim Dark ($364), Zaynoun Melhem ($159), Loi Truong ($52) and Peter Brown (zero).
Over the four years up to July 2020, councillors claimed the following: Cr Chea ($27,174), Cr Kirwan ($24,371), Cr Sampey ($23,563), Cr Long ($21,063), Cr O’Reilly ($17,604), Cr Memeti ($13,999), Cr Dark ($12,543), Cr Truong ($5973) and Cr Melhem ($2184).
Cr Tan who has served in the past two years claimed $9351, and Cr Brown claimed zero in the past year.
Former mayor Roz Blades who served three years of this term claimed $11,918.