Welcome to this week’s editorial, Little by little our access to information is being whittled away and any information we do encounter is generally diluted into sound bites, tweets or 100 words or less. We now generally inform ourselves via hourly radio news headlines, nightly TV news and an infill of updates from our social media feeds. Some might extend their reach for news by adding programs such as the 7:30 Report, 4 Corners, The Panel, The Drum or follow ViceLand and Q&A however most of us are happy to just absorb the main feed. Fortunately though there are a few among us who want to know more, who delve below the media releases of what is said to discover what is NOT said. There are those who look under the carpet and in the dark spaces discovering that there is much that is hidden. This week we have seen both the ABC and NewsCorp turned upside down by the Federal Police looking for evidence around Whistle-blowers'. NewsCorp reported that the Australian Government was seeking expanded powers to spy on Australian citizens without their knowledge and has also revealed major concerns when they revealed abuse of power inside the ATO, including aggressive debt collection practices. ABC is also under fire with a whistle-blower being charged with theft of war crimes investigation files that he leaked to the ABC to form the basis of a report revealing allegations of serious misconduct by Australian troops in Afghanistan. What you have with these examples is the media willing to further investigate and publish these stories. Meanwhile the wheels of bureaucracy are doing all they can to tighten the laws around secrecy. Even at a local level our own Eurobodalla Council does all it can to ensure that secrets remain behind corridors, as revealed by the confidentiality agreements required of members of the Batemans Bay Foreshore Committee and the Mackay Park Sunset Committee. A whistle-blower who might reveal that a Council staff member had accessed ratepayer name and address details for their own use would be swiftly dealt with, yet by law such a breach must be reported and should be revealed to the public. New Council rules have been written and adopted that prohibit anyone from revealing the outcomes of Codes of Conduct breaches by Council staff or Councillors. If they were to be found in breach of the Local Government Act the determination is to remain secret and if staff, councillors or members of the public reveal there will be ‘consequences’. So what happened to all the openness and transparency that had been promised that would return trust to the community? Next week Eurobodalla Council will be voting on closing down another cornerstone of democracy—the video recording of public presentations to Councillors. Why? Because they can as it isn’t required by any Act. What was available for the past four years will be no more with a predicted six to three vote in support of the General Manager’s recommendations and that will leave Eurobodalla Council as being the only Council in the South East of NSW that does not record Public Forum. Have Wollongong, Shoalhaven, Queanbeyan Pallerang, Bega and Snowy Monaro have got it wrong by offering their communities more than the minimum required to ensure inclusion of the wider community unable to attend meeting? Or will Eurobodalla, the self-declared leader among councils, be widely applauded for its mediocrity and the bold snub of its community by further limiting public engagement. … and having got away with it.
Until next Lei
PS: Just in case you wondered how we felt about whistleblowers and the right of the public to know what is happening with their government, from Local to State and on to Federal