The Beagle Editor, The recent Beagle posting, The peasants ARE revolting, provides an astute and important reminder to your readers that we have our very own secretive state here in the Eurobodalla; and it has prompted me, again, to express my own views on this secretive, unaccountable council. As we move towards the council election in 2020, the constituency needs to be continually reminded of the need to remove those not deserving of the office of councillor. Only then can we hope to return to an open and democratic local government.
The secretive state is one which derives from an ignorance, whether wilful or otherwise, of what it actually means to represent, to serve and to be accountable to the public.
The removal of live-streaming of Public Forum and the introduction of the nonsense that is called Public Access, are recent demonstrations by (a majority of) councillors of a contempt for the community. To deny the dissemination to the wider public of presentations made to councillors by fellow community members, is nothing but a contemptible act, the motives for which have been previously discussed – and will no doubt be further discussed over the next 10 and a bit months.
And this contempt is made all the worse, as we are reminded by the author of The peasants ARE revolting, by the complete absence of any advice on council’s website as to whether there are presenters scheduled to turn up and speak into the ether, thus placing those interested in attending and listening to presentations, at risk of simply wasting their time, possibly after travelling from the edges of the shire. This further disregard for the community leaves no doubt, if there could have been any, that council is most comfortable when there are no members of the public present in the chamber. Disengagement is the name of the game, not engagement.
There is a stark mindlessness amongst a majority of our so-called representatives. They don’t know what their legislated duties are, nor do they know why they are there, in spite of the clear language of the oath they took – nor do they, it appears, care about informing themselves - even if they had the capacity to do so. Increasingly, the norm is to withhold information from the public, in spite of the unequivocal legislative requirements to the contrary; and to quash criticism no matter its form, by whatever means available. This attitude and behaviour is pervasive and entrenched.
By default, information is classified as confidential. Yet, as far as information related to and stemming from councillors’ decisions is concerned, only the councillors themselves have the authority to declare a matter confidential; and even then the LGA requires that they must, before making such a declaration, give reasons to the public, in an open meeting, as to why it would be contrary to the public interest to make the information public. It is a matter for debate in an open meeting. That does not happen.
The withholding of information from the public, being information owned by the public (with the obvious exceptions of private information and genuine commercial-in-confidence, etc), is probably the clearest and most egregious of the many demonstrations of contempt for the public by council. After all, council’s raison d'être is the public, to whom it should serve and be accountable.
The Model Code of Meeting Practice requires that decisions by council “are made in a way that is open and transparent.” That very rarely happens. Positions taken on matters to come before council, being quasi decisions, are formed at briefings, prior to meetings. This non-transparent process happens routinely, in spite of council’s own Code of Meeting Practice prohibiting this practice.
The need to remove and replace the Eurobodalla Secretive State with one that actually serves, truly engages with and is accountable to its people, is of critical importance and will require the efforts of all who value a democratic system of government, being one “of the people by the people, for the people”, to quote that timeless phrase. Peter Cormick Deua Valley