LORD mayor Lisa Scaffidi and her allies have voted to keep a “gag” policy preventing Perth councillors from speaking their mind.
Most councils take their lead from the local government act which says councillors can offer personal opinions, but can’t speak on behalf of the city, undermine a council decision or slag off their colleagues.
Perth’s policy is a step more restrictive and according to the lord mayor’s interpretation, once a decision is made, discussion is over.
“You can’t continue to have a personal opinion once the majority of council has spoken,” Ms Scaffidi told her colleagues at this week’s meeting.
That means, for example, that since five of the nine councillors (Ms Scaffidi’s allies) successfully moved a no-confidence motion in deputy mayor James Limnios in May, he’d have been breaching the rules if he tried to defend his record in the media.
Ms Scaffidi’s comment was in relation to a motion put forward by new councillor Jemma Green, who wants councillors to have the right to speak out on council decision and activities, as long as they make it clear it’s a personal opinion and don’t adversely reflect on colleagues, staff or council/committee decisions.
But the old guard shot her down.
Veteran councillor Janet Davidson stole Cr Green’s thunder, quickly stepping in to move the motion. That gave her the right to make both the opening and closing remarks in the debate.
Cr Green, clearly miffed at being out-manoeuvred, said the changes to the policy would bring Perth into line with councils around Australia and let ratepayers know where their elected members stood.
Cr Limnios agreed. Having noted his Greek ancestry on his Facebook page before the vote, he said the concept of free speech was thousands of years old and integral to a free government.
“It was only this week that I was called into the lord mayor’s office and told off for speaking to the media,” he said.
Ms Scaffidi interjected: “You weren’t told off, we were having a discussion.”
Cr Reece Harley, who’s repeatedly been on the pointy end of the policy, says it’s a “gag” on free speech which has been “selectively applied and often ignored”.
“Preventing councillors from communicating our ideas and decisions to electors and stakeholders of the city has no place in a modern democracy,” he told the chamber.
“The former local government minister, the opposition’s shadow local government minister, and the president of the WA local government association have all publicly expressed their views that our current media policy should be revised.”
by DAVID BELL