NEW Local Government Minister Paul Miles confirmed this week that the City of Perth’s media policy is not consistent with the Local Government Act, but he would not act to encourage a change.
The City of Perth media policy prevents elected members other than the Lord Mayor and, in her absence, the Deputy Lord Mayor, from speaking to the media about council issues; a fact reiterated by Lord Mayor Lisa Scaffidi at a recent council meeting.
Mr Miles told Guardian Express the “Local Government Act does not preclude elected members from speaking to the media, provided it is made clear that they are expressing their own personal views, not those of the local government”.
This is a view echoed by the WA Local Government Association (WALGA) and the Opposition Local Government spokesman David Templeman.
However, Mr Miles would not comment on what could or would be done to encourage the City of Perth to end their media ban.
On October 9 Mr Miles defended the City’s media ban, saying “it isn’t a stupid rule … it is democratic”.
“They have the same set of rules as any elected person has, except for the fact that they can’t talk against policy that has been created by the council,” he said.
On October 12, Mr Templeman asked the minister why he supported “the gagging of free speech by elected members of the council”.
Mr Miles answered by referring to the State Act, rather than the City’s policy.
“Councillors do… have a right to go out there and champion local causes, speak in their local papers, or even go onto their local networks, radio or otherwise, to talk about issues around the broader area… there is no gag at all,” he told Parliament.
Mr Miles said it was “not up to the government to interfere with that level of debate within a chamber”.
Mr Templeman said the media policy demonstrated “a lack of transparency and accountability”.
“The Minister’s convoluted and confusing response to parliamentary questions misses the fundamental point that the elected members have a right to freedom of speech,” he told Guardian Express.
“At a time when a dark cloud continues to hang over the City of Perth’s governance one would think that transparency and accountability would be their number one priority, but this does not seem to be the case.”
A recent attempt by councillor Jemma Green to bring the City’s policy in line with the Local Government Act was defeated by a 6-3 vote, with Deputy Lord Mayor James Limnios and Cr Reece Harley supporting the reform.