Keep meetings private

The City of Wanneroo held a special council meeting last week to endorse a submission on the State Government’s review of conduct rules for local government.

The Department of Local Government and Communities had invited comments by March 4 on the discussion paper of the Local Government (Rules of Conduct) Regulations 2007 review, published last November.

The discussions paper explored proposed changes and issues with the minor breach system, and the March 15 Wanneroo council report highlighted several proposed changes that raised concerns among elected members.

“Members expressed a view that any changes to the requirements and thresholds relating to hospitality declarations be made explicitly clear to ensure that members did not fall foul of the requirements of the legislation,” it said.

“Additionally members were in agreement that any changes to legislation which would regulate that council meeting recordings be made available to the public should be strongly rejected.

“Members did not enjoy the same legal protection as that afforded to State Parliamentarians and until such time as there was equity in this arena, the proposal would not be supported.”

Cr Brett Treby said legal advice highlighted the same point.

“McLeods Barristers and Solicitors has recently proposed the legal position that recordings of meetings should be used solely for the purposes of confirming the correctness of the meeting minutes and should not be published or made available for any other purpose,” the council report said.

“Elected members do not enjoy the protection of absolute privilege in respect of defamation actions arising from what is said in council meetings.”

The Joondalup council, which publishes recordings of its meetings online, unanimously endorsed a submission and supported the intent of the review at its February 16 meeting.

Its submission supported changes that would improve efficiency and reduce processing times, but not one to introduce an application fee as that might deter people from lodging complaints.

According to the Wanneroo report, its complaints officer has received 16 complaints relating to that legislation since 2007, with only three of those being proven and resulting in public censure.

“The last complaint that the City’s complaints officer processed was in December 2012,” it said.

Wanneroo’s submission also objected to a proposal that would require elected members to notify the chief executive in writing of any comments or written material provided to the media.

Joondalup’s submission said the proposed requirement for councillors to notify the chief executive in writing of comments given to media was unnecessary and added an extra administrative burden to both.

Wanneroo’s submission also said a regulation relating to receiving gifts, including hospitality, should not restrict elected members from attending events and functions in their capacity as councillors.

Both councils welcomed clarity offered in a new proposed regulation regarding interactions with elected members.

That rule would prohibit a council member from behaving in an abusive or threatening manner towards any other council member or the chief executive.

Wanneroo received an extension to March 18 to provide its submission to the department.