Council leaders had trips to Australian Open

DEFENCE: Mayor John Rohde defended the civic benefits flowing from his visit to the Australian Open tennis tournament in Melbourne.

DEFENCE: Mayor John Rohde defended the civic benefits flowing from his visit to the Australian Open tennis tournament in Melbourne.

Ratepayers have picked up travel costs for Port Pirie mayors to attend the Australian Open tennis tournament in Melbourne.

The total amount is thought to be many thousands of dollars for what has been “common practice” for decades.

Tickets are provided by Tennis Australia as part of arrangements surrounding the Port Pirie Tennis International which began more than 25 years ago.

The practice has been highlighted by revelations in the Adelaide media that Onkaparinga Council Mayor Lorraine Rosenberg had several ratepayer-funded trips to the Australian Open.

The trips were defended as “civic duties”.

It followed criticism of the same council over its handling of Kooyonga Golf Club membership fees for its chief executive officer.

Mayor John Rohde confirmed that he and mayors dating back many years had received free tickets to the event from Tennis Australia.

He said the Port Pirie Regional Council had covered travel costs, sometimes including those of the Mayoress.

The Recorder is not condemning the arrangements, but believes the matter should be reported in the public interest because it involves community funds.

Mr Rohde said “nothing positive” could come out of the public’s reaction to this article.

“I don’t take holidays from council so It is nice to get away for a break,” he said

He said he had performed council duties while at the tournament.

This year the Cairns council had been represented and he had fruitful talks about tourism strategies.

“It has been very useful because a number of councils are there from across Australia on the day,” he said.

“It has been common practice for quite some time.”

He said he had no idea of the total costs of the trips.

Later, Mr Rohde said he wanted “share the facts” regarding his trip.

He said he had attended the event in his official capacity in 2016 and 2017 at the invitation of Tennis Australia and Tennis SA.

“The invitation was for one day and tickets to the events were provided free. These visits are important in establishing and maintaining relationships with Tennis Australia and Tennis SA which is particularly important following recent developments,” he said.

“Port Pirie has hosted the Port Pirie Tennis International as part of the ATP circuit. This annual tennis tournament was a major tourist attraction and highlight for our region, bringing international tennis stars to Port Pirie.

“The event has helped to put Port Pirie on the map, for all the right reasons. However, after 25 successful years Port Pirie recently lost this tournament. My main objective in attending the Australian Open this year was to secure the return of the event.

“The tournament is critical in attracting economic benefits and visitors to our region. I would gladly travel to Melbourne and farther to fight for Port Pirie to keep this event.

“The cost of my 2017 visit was $1079, a reasonable investment to secure an important event for our region.”

President of the Port Pirie and District Tennis Association Dennis Buchanan confirmed the importance of the tournament to the city.

“The event attracts the world’s best upcoming players to our city, bringing with them their support teams and many spectators,” he said.

“This event definitely provides an economic boost for Port Pirie as well as promotional value for our club and region. The tournament raises the sporting profile of our city.”