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

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

PERTH council voted last night to send the proposed end of its media gag back to a committee for more analysis.

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

This means the ban on councillors speaking to the media will still be in place on June 14 and June 21, the two days the State Administrative Tribunal has scheduled for Lord Mayor Lisa Scaffidi’s penalty hearing.

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 the 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.

Councillor Reece Harley, one of the two committee members to back the change, told council last night that the gag was “against Local Government Act and common law”, adding that the new policy prepared by staff was approved by Local Government Department.

He said the Premier and the Local Government Minister were in favour of reforming the media policy, and the City’s own chief executive Martin Mileham said the policy was being ignored anyway.

“Speaking on behalf of the City is the job of Lord Mayor… but councillors should be able to speak as individual councillors… in a democracy councillors elected as representatives of constituents should be able to speak to the media,” Cr Harley said.

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 in the event 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 Janet Davidson asked if other councils had media policies similar to the current Perth ban.

Mr Mileham said the proposed reforms were in line with contemporary standards and the Local Government Act.

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, while councillors Harley, James Limnios and Jemma Green voted against.

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