CR DON Hill failed in his bid to allow ratepayers more opportunities to speak at South Gippsland Shire Council meetings.
Cr Hill’s motion to allow “questions in the open council meeting with or without notice” was ultimately voted down. As it stands, people must submit questions in advance of meetings. He was also seeking a ‘Councillor Question Time’ to allow councillors to do the same.
According to Cr Hill the current policy – which was voted in on May 23, 2017 – has not resulted in improved governance or transparency, with members of the public confused by the process.
In explanation of the motion, Cr Hill wrote, “Whilst some questions and questioners might be considered by some to be troublesome this is just something democracies must tolerate if they are to allow the necessary open and transparent governance processes to succeed.
“Councillors being able to ask questions of the council is an important governance mechanism in our Westminster style democratic system. Having less questions limits scrutiny. It is not transparent to be the judge and jury over what questions can be asked and accountability is limited,” he said.
Cr Hill told fellow councillors less questions were being asked by members of the public.
“The argument made is that some questions might be uncomfortable. But in a democratic process, you just have to take some things on the chin,” he said.
“You have to give people the right in a democracy to ask questions in Council. I’m asking Council to reinstate the previous arrangement where people could turn up on the day and ask questions,” he said.
Cr Maxine Kiel spoke against the motion, saying Council was open with “umpteen ways the community can engage with Council, and ask whatever question is worrying them.
“I don’t think we need to go back to the old Council meetings, where people are put on the spot for answers,” she said.
“This way the community has time for the answers to be given and receive them back.”
Cr Jeremy Rich there was a responsibility to “balance what is efficient and effective, with transparency.
“We now have a who will guard the guards scenario,” he said.
Cr Andrew McEwen asked, “Are we going to go back to a 19th Century conservatism where you have to doff your hat to your state manager to see if you can ask a question in a supposed democracy, or are we going to be really true to what’s in our Council plan, which is all about transparency and accountability?
“This is bizarre. How dare, in a democracy, we curtail the rights of elected representatives and our citizens,” he said.
Councillors Skinner, Hill, McEwen and Rich were for the changes, while Councillors Edwards, Argento, Brunt, Brown and Kiel voted against.