City of Perth media gag to remain as council sends proposal back to committee for further analysis

PREMIER Mark McGowan has told the City of Perth to “take action” over its media policy.

Perth Council voted on June 6 to refer a decision on the proposed end of its media gag back to committee for more analysis.

The move will delay reforms – backed by the City’s chief executive and other senior staff – by at least four weeks.

For 10 years, only the Lord Mayor and chief executive have been able to speak to the media about City matters. Perth’s policy goes beyond requirements of the Local Government Act, which states elected members can speak to the media as long as they do not claim to speak on behalf of the council.

The City’s finance and administration committee voted 2-1 to recommend the reforms drafted by City staff, which would have brought the City’s policy into line with State law.

Mr McGowan said on June 7 said the City’s current policy was “wrong” and the State Government was sick of it stonewalling the issue.

“The media gag is wrong and I’d urge the City of Perth to take action on it,” he said.

“I think they stonewall these issues and I don’t think it does their public relations or their image any good at all. Perth City council doesn’t seem to learn.”

Councillor Reece Harley, one of the two committee members to back the change, told council at last week’s meeting that the gag was “against Local Government Act and common law”. He said the new policy prepared by staff was approved by the Local Government Department, the Premier and Local Government Minister were in favour of reforming the media policy and City chief executive Martin Mileham said the policy was being ignored anyway.

“Speaking on behalf of the City is the job of the Lord Mayor… but councillors should be able to speak as individual councillors,” Cr Harley said.

“In a democracy, councillors elected as representatives of constituents should be able to speak to the media.

Mr Mileham said he had not sought specific legal advice if the current policy was illegal.

Cr Harley asked if the City would incur legal costs if a councillor received three notices for breaching the current policy and chose to fight the matter at the Standards Panel.

The report before council said the media gag posed a “medium risk” of what Mr Mileham called “reputational harm to the City”.

Cr Jim Adamos moved that the reform be sent back to the committee to discuss addressing social media in the policy.

Lord Mayor Lisa Scaffidi and councillors Adamos, Davidson, Keith Yong, Lily Chen and Judy McEvoy voted in favour of the referral.