City of Perth lifts media gag on councillors

City of Perth's Council House.
City of Perth's Council House.

CITY of Perth has ended its decade-old gag on councillors speaking to the media.

Councillors voted unanimously at last night’s meeting to change the City’s media policy.

Under the previous policy, only the Lord Mayor or chief executive could speak to the media on council matters.

This went beyond the provisions of the Local Government Act, which states elected members can speak to the media provided they make clear their views are their own and not being expressed on behalf of their local government.

The City’s new media policy is in line with the Local Government Act.

Councillor Reece Harley has long campaigned internally for reform and told council he was “very pleased the administration is supportive of this change”.

He said the Local Government Act clearly states only mayors speak on behalf of councils, but individual councillors should be able to speak to media as long as they do not claim they are speaking on behalf of the City.

Cr Jim Adamos, who had previously referred the new policy back to the City’s finance and administration committee so it would include social media policy, said he was happy with the proposed changes so long as “it is clear only the Lord Mayor and CEO speak on behalf of the City”.

Crs Keith Yong, Judy McEvoy and Janet Davidson all stated that the old policy was consistent with the Local Government Act and that there was never a gag in place.

However, the WA Local Government Association (WALGA) and the Minister for Local Government David Templeman have both stated that the Act allows councillors to speak to the media on council matters so long as they do not claim to represent the entire council and do not make disparaging remarks about councillors.

The previous City of Perth policy did not allow this.

Cr Davidson said she was prepared to see how the new policy “plays out”.

She likened the City to a company listed on the Australian Stock Exchange (ASX) with the chief executive as the lone spokesperson.

Cr Harley took issue with this characterisation.

“There is a difference between an ASX listed company and a democratically elected government… we need open communication with our constituents,” he said.

Lord Mayor Lisa Scaffidi also claimed there had never been a gag in place.

She took aim at what she said were claims she “controls” a “clique” on council.

“As of tonight it’s an evolution (of the media policy)… there was never a gag,” she said, adding that after council makes a decision councillors should not disparage the decision in the media.

Cr Harley refuted the claim that there was never a gag on councillors.

“There was a gag. I received numerous warnings from the former CEO that I’d breached the policy by speaking to the media,” he said.

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