The Beagle Editor,
Democracy - a system of government by the whole population or all the eligible members of a state, typically through elected representatives; a system of government where the citizens exercise power by voting. The Local Government NSW Policy Platform [Updated June 2019] states that Local government Councillors are democratically elected to shape, serve, support and give voice to their communities and must reflect the views of their communities on local government matters.
Live streaming the Public Forum is an important local government matter for Eurobodalla citizens. Live streaming is an accurate public record enabling people who cannot attend council meetings, to see/hear their fellow citizens presenting and any questions asked by councillors. Live streaming enables access by local media to local government matters in the Eurobodalla.
However Mayor Innes and six councillors voted for General Manager Dale’s “interpretation” of the Code of Meeting Practice to remove live streaming of the Public Forum. Eight presenters spoke passionately, intelligently and respectfully, encouraging councillors against removing a transparent, democratic function that continues in all other councils in our region.
Under the new Code of Meeting Practice citizens will need “approval” to speak, 24 hours before the Public Forum. It is no secret that Mayor Innes is blaming some citizens for council/community conflict. Is Mayor Innes hoping that new controls on who presents will discourage some citizens? What is the criteria for an “approved” speaker? Who in council will decide? "There was a disappointing trend by a small group of presenters who abused the opportunity to engage with councillors and instead used it to "harass, bully, make defamatory comments and continuously promote misinformation, and to also make defamatory and derogatory comments continuously about members of our staff". Liz Innes in the Bay Post June 12th 2019 The Mayor also told the Bay Post that "her decision to vote against the webcast came down to "responsibilities and code of conduct". "Councillors should not knowingly deceive, defame or bring council into disrepute," she said. "The same code of conduct does not apply to members of the community who address council in this chamber in public forum."
"BLACK, THE KETTLE YOU ARE CALLING? BUT POT YOU ARE"
What she failed to advise however was that there are very clear guidelines in the Code of Meeting Practice for presenters and that in her role as Chair she was able to ensure speakers abided by these rules. There is little if any evidence of presenters using their allocated five minutes to "harass, bully, make defamatory comments and continuously promote misinformation" however there is considerable evidence in Council's video archives of presenters being harrassed and bullied and more than disappointingly the responses from staff have served to promote misinformation that has later been found to be untrue.
The removal of live streaming of the Public Forum conveys the message from Council to the community that transparency and engagement are not understood or valued. For a functioning democracy we must hold power to account. We have a right to know about decisions that are being made in our name by Eurobodalla councilors and, for that matter, state and federal government representatives.