Code of conduct cops criticism
The code of conduct for local council meetings is set to come into effect in June, however it hasn’t come without strong criticism.
The mandatory new code of practice will force all councils to be stricter about conducting council meetings including time limits on speaking and general business raised by councillors will be limited.
By the end of the year all NSW local councils will be forced to video live stream their council meetings.
The Berrigan Shire has admitted its council meetings are ‘‘quite informal’’ however when the code of practice is adopted the meeting will become formal.
At the Berrigan Shire corporate workshop meeting, Cr John Bruce was the only councillor to formally vote against adopting the code.
Cr Bruce said the the new code is starting to restrict free speech and more power will be handed to shire staff rather than the councillors, who were elected by ratepayers.
The 20 year councillor and former mayor said the new code was ‘‘too Sydney centric’’.
‘‘I don’t think it’s necessary to be forced to live stream our meetings. We’re responding to the failures of others,’’ Cr Bruce said.
‘‘I’m concerned we’re getting to the stage we won’t have any discussions on matters at meetings, we’ll just move and second them.
‘‘A discussion among the councillors in an open forum is a pretty healthy way to do business.
‘‘We’re starting to put pressure on freedom of speech because we will have private committee meetings and the council meeting will just be a case of ticking boxes.’’
Cr Bruce also defended his decision to vote against the proposal.
‘‘The other seven councillors voted to adopt the proposal and I accept that.
‘‘It doesn’t mean to say I have to agree or vote on it. I think sometimes we need to register our concerns.’’
The council refused to endorse the nonmandatory part of the code restricting limitation on ratepayers addressing council.
If the council did adopt the provisions the public must apply in writing to speak, have strict time limits, not permitted to ask questions to council or staff, and sign waivers declaring any conflict of interest.
Cr Bruce said it’s sad the NSW government is trying to enforce the rule on councils.
‘‘It doesn’t hurt for councillors to hear what people have to say, even if you agree or disagree.
‘‘The point is, it’s a right to free speech and for them to be heard.
‘‘It worries me we’re going to limit people’s opportunity to have a say about things they’re passionate about.
‘‘It’s a slow grind to reduce the ability of council,’’ Cr Bruce said.