VIDEO: Ordinary Meeting of Eurobodalla Council Date: June 11th 2019 Presentation by Peter Cormick.
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PUBLIC FORUM – 11 JUNE 2019. PETER CORMICK AGENDA ITEM GMR19/010: CODE OF MEETING PRACTICE 1. Clearly, it will not be possible in this presentation to address all the points I have sought to make in the submission and addendum I have already provided to you – and which are to be included as part of my written presentation - but I will endeavour to address some of the issues I regard as the most important, within the time available; starting with the unconscionable proposal to cease the live-streaming of public forum, followed by the Meeting Principle requiring councillors to be fully informed in their decision-making. 2. Dr Cartledge, who is well known to council, declared in a post to the much lauded online Beagle that the proposal to cease live streaming of public forum is bigger than any other matter that this council has had to deal with to date, including the McKay Park development, a claim which most of you will no doubt regard as outrageous. ..... And therein lies the essential problem. The nature and enormity of the proposal, in its undermining affects on what remaining democratic processes we have, clearly does not register in the minds of those who no doubt thought it a very clever manoeuvre in assuming yet more control over the information made available to the community. It is a proposal that reveals, or confirms, an attitude, or dare I say, a culture, within council, that does not recognise, other than by words, the central importance of increasing and maintaining open and accountable government, if we are to hold onto a democratic society. 3. In all the decisions that each of you make as councillors, you are, for those of you who need reminding, obliged to act in the best interests of the public. If a recommendation put before you is not in the public’s best interests, you are obliged to vote against it. That is the legally binding commitment each of you made when you took office, that you would “undertake your duties of the office of councillor in the best interests of the people of the Eurobodalla Shire”. There are no ifs or buts about it. There is no discretion available. You are obliged to comply. 4. So, in deciding on how you will vote in this matter, in order to keep to your word and comply with the Act, the fundamental question for each of you is: Is it in the public’s best interests that it be denied access to the live-streaming of public forum? If, as rationality demands, you conclude that it is not in the public’s best interests and that it is in fact diametrically opposed to those interests, then you will be obliged to vote against the proposal. If, on the other hand, you somehow form the view that it is in the public’s best interests, and you feel compelled to support the General Manager’s recommendation without qualification, then you must at least do the community the courtesy of explaining your reasoning, in detail, prior to the vote. Please do take us through it. 5. I remind you of the OLG’s statement that “Public forums should operate as an input into council decision-making at meetings”. The OLG also states, as you know, that meetings of council “should be webcast to increase the transparency of council decision-making and allow access to those who may not be physically able to attend meetings.” It is therefore a matter of simple logic that public forum sessions, being part of council’s decision-making process, must acquire the same status as the meeting itself - as far as the need for webcasting of council decisionmaking processes is concerned. It could not be clearer.
6. If, in spite of the oath you swore or affirmation you made, you steadfastly go with the recommendation to cease webcasting of public forum, for what can only be described as fatuous, desperate reasons, you might care to think about your own legacy as a councillor. If you do support the proposal, you will certainly be the talking point at the pub, barbecues and dinner parties, all the way up to the next council election and beyond. And, of course, if you are part of a majority, your legacy in this matter will be given a new life when the time comes, as it certainly will, when a future council overturns a decision that can only be described as a blatant act of political censorship. No liberally-minded person could possibly support this proposal. 7. There is a need for council to address the causes of the dissent it experiences, rather than the symptoms. It needs to move forward, not backwards; to become much, much more open – and proactively so. 8. Please vote as your oath and affirmation requires of you, in the best interests of the people of this shire. 9. Moving onto other contentious elements of the draft code, in my submission I requested that the Meeting Principle requiring that councillors be provided with “relevant, quality information” be enhanced to read “all relevant, quality information”. The importance of this enhancement has been strikingly and ironically demonstrated by the absence of highly relevant information from this very report to you. The report contains nothing on the fact that this shire is surrounded by councils which will continue with webcasting their public forums: at least five councils, including Wollongong, and counting. 10. Either it didn’t occur to staff to investigate just what other councils are doing on this matter and were therefore unaware of this information, or were aware but formed the view, on your behalf, that that information is not relevant to your considerations and chose to withhold that information from you. In either case, staff have clearly failed in their duty to properly inform you in your considerations prior to voting. It may well be that the Eurobodalla Shire is the only shire intending to remove the live streaming of public forum. You would surely want to know if that is the case. 11. And so, I ask that you please enhance the code by amending it to require that in providing you with information in any of the reports presented to you, staff provide you with all relevant, quality information, not just that which supports the staff’s preferred position. 12. Turning now to Public Access, I refer to the excellent presentations given on 28 May, by Dr Sue McKenzie, . What possible grounds can there be for denying the community live access to those presentations, except to close down critical comment. ..... 13. Appendix F ... section 10 D .... public interest test .... a requirement of the LGA that has not been recognised by this council ....