Residents forced to pay to access council meetings

Paul Hitt (Former councillor), residents say it is lunacy they are forced to pay a fee of $30 to lodge an FOI to access audio recordings of public question time from the City of Belmont council meetings.
Paul Hitt (Former councillor), residents say it is lunacy they are forced to pay a fee of $30 to lodge an FOI to access audio recordings of public question time from the City of Belmont council meetings.

RATEPAYERS say it is lunacy they are forced to put their hand in their pocket and lodge a freedom of information application to access audio recordings from council meetings.

Belmont Resident and Ratepayer Action Group (BRAGG) chair Lisa Hollands said transparency and accountability needed to improve at the City of Belmont.

“Currently residents must lodge an FOI and pay a $30 fee to access recordings from public council meetings,” she said.

“And the council doesn’t even record the entire meeting, only public question time.

“Since we have to pay for the audio we wanted to put it on our website so residents could hear what questions were asked.

“But the council refuses to allow us to make these recordings freely available to ratepayers saying it is subject to copyright.

“Unbelievably even councillors who want to access the audio must be supervised by a person designated by the CEO, complete a form identifying the section of the meeting they want to access and are not allowed to keep an electronic copy without permission.

“Something is seriously wrong with all of this.

“I’m not aware of any other council that does this and gets away with calling itself open and accountable.”

Former councillor Paul Hitt said councils must be fully transparent in their actions and decision making.

“To do this the full council meetings need to be electronically recorded which occurs in many other councils in Australia,” he said.

“So what is this council frightened of, surely not of being fully open and accountable to its residents and ratepayers?”

City of Belmont chief executive John Christie said the issue of audio recording and live streaming council meetings had been deliberated numerous times by council.

Mr Christie said last year council adopted a policy to record public question time but only to assist with verification of the minutes.

“The balance of the deliberation process at council meetings, with the exception of confidential matters, is open to the public to observe the debate and voting process,” he said.

“In the past 10 years there has been no challenge, that officers are aware of, relevant to this formal open and transparent decision process.”

Beyond transparency, Ms Hollands said the City needed to make council meetings freely accessible to all residents.

“There are many residents who are unable to attend council meetings for example many elderly and disabled people are unable to go out at night and under this policy are being treated less favourably by the City,” she said.

Shadow Local Government Minister Bill Marmion said he was concerned that council seemed to be shirking their accountability and creating more red tape for ratepayers.

“The council is accountable to the ratepayers and they have a right to know what is going on,” he said.

Local Government Minister David Templeman said audio recording or live streaming of meetings is a matter for local governments to decide.

“There may be proposals to introduce online public recording of meetings, but that has yet to be considered for future amendments,” he said.

The Town of Victoria Park will start live streaming all council meetings starting this month.