City of Perth councillor to challenge media gagging order

City of Perth Lord Mayor Lisa Scaffidi.
City of Perth Lord Mayor Lisa Scaffidi.

PERTH Council’s ban on councillors speaking to the media will be challenged at the City’s council meeting next Tuesday.

Councillor Jemma Green has given notice of motion to amend the City’s media policy, which if passed would bring the City’s policies into line with the provisions of the Local Government Act and the standard accepted by the WA Local Government Association (WALGA).

Cr Green’s motion would amend the City’s policy to allow councillors to “make their own personal position known about any matter, which is pertinent to the business of the City, including Council decisions provided that it cannot be construed to be a statement on behalf of the Council”.

The current City of Perth policy states: “The Lord Mayor, or in his/her absence the Deputy Lord Mayor or the Chief Executive Officer, are the only persons authorised to provide comment to members of the media on Council decisions and activities”.

Local Government Minister Tony Simpson told Guardian Express it was “not improper for a council member to communicate with the public provided they make clear the opinion is their own”.

The State Opposition’s Local Government spokesman David Templeman said elected members should “always be available to talk to members of the public, and that includes media… It is the basics of good governance and accountability”.

WALGA president Lynne Craigie said that while “unable to represent a decision of council as that remains the role of the spokesperson… individual elected members can’t be prevented from engaging in freedom of speech”.

Cr Craigie said under the Act the only restriction on speech prevented an elected member from “casting an adverse reflection on the Council and its employees”.

Cr Reece Harley was critical of the ban during his campaign for Lord Mayor.

Cr Harley previously said it was reasonable for only the Lord Mayor and Deputy to speak on behalf of the City, but that did not mean other elected members could not express a view.