Gags to stay

TWO attempts to increase freedom of speech for Vincent city councillors failed at Tuesday’s meeting and a third was stalled.

Currently councillors are banned from “adversely reflecting on a council decision” and are not permitted to state their position about plans or policies out for community consultation if it could be seen as biased.

Cr Dudley Maier wants to scrap both rules.

He says councillors should be free to speak their mind on decisions. Currently they cautiously state, “the reason I voted against this decision was ABC,” and councillors can be in hot water if they label a decision “bad”.

Cr Matt Buckels was the only councillor to support Cr Maier.

“I do believe in freedom of speech by councillors but I am also concerned about removing this and then developing a culture of adversarial politics,” Cr John Carey—a former journalist—said.

The other rule prevents elected members from, “expressing a personal opinion which is biased or may be perceived as biased” when it comes to issues out for public consultation.

“Surely [councillors] should be allowed to get out there and sell what they’re passionate about to the community,” Cr Maier said.

Cr Buckels said the rules led to weird situations where councillors weren’t even allowed to talk up their own policies.

He noted they resort to saying things like “we’re doing this policy because it’s really great. Or bad.

“We’re building this great building… it’s pretty terrible, maybe.”

CEO John Giorgi says the rule stems from a situation eight years ago when a councillor commented about an item before it was voted on. The powerful but unelected state administrative tribunal ruled the councillor, “in forming a preconceived opinion, did not give full consideration to the matter”.

Mayor Alannah MacTiernan moved to defer the item, wanting to narrow the rule down to just apply to development applications so councillors can still make their opinion known on policies and council projects.

Cr Maier also lost a bid to permit councillors to call each other by their first names.

In meetings elected members must refer to each other as “Councillor Surname” but Cr Maier says it’s too stuffy.

He says parliamentarians gets caught up in “pomp and circumstance” and he thinks councils should be more informal.

But apart from Cr Carey everyone voted to keep using titles. Cr Josh Topelberg says when making decisions on big projects a bit of formality is suitable.

by DAVID BELL

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