The Minister for Health and Medical Research, the Hon. Brad Hazzard MP (the Minister), made the Public Health (COVID-19 Restrictions on Gathering and Movement) Order (No 3) 2020 on 12 June 2020.
The new Public Health Order increases the number of persons who can attend council and committee meetings in addition to councillors and staff. This comes as good news as our Councillors have only held one meeting in the last 10 weeks with the next scheduled for next Tuesday June 23rd, 2020. The new Order allows Councillors and council staff to attend council and committee meetings in person. However, councils must allow councillors and staff to attend and participate in meetings by audio visual links where it is reasonably practicable to do so. It will be interesting to see how this plays out as Clr Lindsay Brown has indicated that there may be issues around immunity deficiencies via cancer treatments that might require the susceptible, the older and the more infirm of our councillors to Zoom instead.
BREAKING (17TH JUNE,2020) The ordinary meeting of Council on Tuesday 23 June will take place on the video platform ‘Zoom’ and will also be webcast.
Headcount: The new Order states that members of the public are not permitted to attend meetings (other than for the purposes of work) if this means that the total number of people attending meetings (including councillors and staff) exceed 20. More than 20 councillors and staff may attend meetings subject to appropriate social distancing. Area: Councils must not allow persons to attend meetings if the size of the meeting venue is insufficient to ensure there is 4 square metres of space for each person attending the meeting. Let's do a head count: Staff: Dale, Green, Sharpe, Usher, Arthur, Phillips, Jones = 7 Councillors: Brown, Mayne, Thomson, Nathan, Tait, Constable, McGinlay and Pollock = 9 By head count this allows four members of the public to attend a Public Access session, Public Forum, or Council meeting. If there are four Public Access speakers and four Public Forum speakers then there will be no room for the public to witness the presentations that will remain unrecorded and not live streamed. Even the media will not be able to attend. By Area: If the Council chambers are 10m x 10m = 100m / 4m2 per person = 25 people. Note that Headcount overrules Area.
The Order continues "Where councils exclude members of the public from meetings, they must livestream their meetings using audio-visual links to satisfy the requirement under section 10 of the Local Government Act 1993 for members of the public to be permitted to “attend” meetings. Alas, due to the skullduggery around what constitutes a meeting and the manipulation to ensure that the Council's Code of Meeting Practice excludes Public Access and Public Forum of being part of a "meeting" there is no requirement for Eurobodalla Council to livestream these sessions.
A failure to comply with a direction in a Public Health Order is an offence under Section 10 of the Public Health Act 2010 that carries a maximum penalty of imprisonment for 6 months or a fine of up to $11,000 (or both) plus a further $5,500 fine each day the offence continues.
Eurobodalla Shire Council Chambers at Moruya. Photo: integrateav.com.au