PERTH City Council’s ban on council members speaking to the media should be lifted, Opposition Local Government spokesman David Templeman told the Guardian Express in the wake of the City’s transparency issues.
Under the current rules, only the Lord Mayor and Deputy Lord Mayor can speak to the media, leaving the other members of council gagged.
Mr 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,” he said.
Mr Templeman said a council banning elected members from speaking to the media “fails the transparency test”, and he would “support all councils making sure their elected members are available to talk to the media on issues that relate to the ratepayers they represent”.
Councillor Reece Harley was critical of the ban and raised the issue 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 member could not express a view.
He told the Guardian Express he “could not comment further because of the ban”, but reiterated his view the media policy constituted a “gag on councillors”.
Local Government Minister Tony Simpson said the Local Government Act was framed in a way that “regular spokesperson for a local government”, which “is to ensure the information given is consistent and reflects the council’s decisions”.
However, the Minister echoed the view of Cr Harley that “it is not improper for a council member to communicate with the public provided they make clear the opinion is their own”.
He said elected members must “take care not to make disparaging comments or adversely reflect on council’s decision”.
WA Local Government Association 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”.
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.”:.
City of Perth did not respond before deadline.