Question time revamp?

MEMBERS of the public should be allowed to ask questions at council meetings without bureaucrats getting a sneak peak beforehand, says Vincent council.

In its submission to a review of the Local Government Act, the council says recommendations put forward in a local government department discussion paper don’t go far enough and more can be done to improve accountability, transparency and voter participation.

Many councils currently require ratepayers to submit questions in writing before meetings, giving the admin the opportunity to craft Sir Humphrey-like responses that dissuade further questioning.

But Vincent says all councils should be given minimum standards to follow that would outlaw the practice.

It also wants to ratepayers to be guaranteed three minutes to ask a question or make a statement on any item on the agenda, regardless of which council they attend.

Transparency

Vincent’s submission also calls for a one vote/one value model, and says it’s opposed to “any changes which would enshrine further disparity and unfairness in the current voting system such as compulsory enrolment of businesses or non-residential property owners”.

The council argues that the act currently doesn’t provide for the highest standard of accountability and wants minimum benchmarks and standards set for all councils.

There is “a lack of consistency in the quality and completeness of reporting standards across local government, particularly in relation to financial management,” the council’s submission says.

It complains ratepayers are wasting time and resources getting information that should be readily available, while there’s “staleness and stagnation” amongst senior staff and councillors which holds up new ideas and standards.

The council also wants councillors who breach their code of conduct to face sanctions, saying the codes are currently hard to enforce, particularly without regulatory backing. Vincent also wants the act amended so that it can more easily create trading entities that could enter into private-public partnerships for “business and community purposes”.

by STEVE GRANT

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