Carey wants open doors

COUNCILS have been meeting behind closed doors too often, local government minister John Carey (right) says.

Councillors locking the public out of meetings at the drop of a hat has been a constant bugbear for anyone concerned with transparency.

Vincent and Bayswater have both been criticised by ratepayers over their confidential workshops, where votes aren’t formally cast but prepwork is done on upcoming items.

And Perth council’s secret decision to close Citiplace Child Care Centre meant parents and staff had no chance to offer solutions to keep the place open. 

Mr Carey didn’t mention any specific council in an announcement about a push for reforms on confidential meetings, but it came shortly after Cambridge council’s secret meeting with just 22 minutes’ notice on May 2.

Mr Carey announced on May 19: “I am concerned that some councils hold some meeting items ‘behind closed doors’, without the public or press being able to attend, for issues which simply don’t need to be confidential.

“The everyday business of council should always be open to the public, with very limited exceptions for matters that should be held confidentially, for clear and specific public interest reasons. 

“That is why, as part of local government reforms, we will be amending the law to be very clear about the limited circumstances, like CEO recruitment, which councils should consider confidentially. 

“This will ensure that items such as planning matters, including planning referrals back from [the State Administrative Tribunal] and decisions about leases of local government property are made openly and transparently, and with all residents and ratepayers being able to view the decision-making process.”

Mr Carey seemed to allude to Cambridge’s short notice meeting but without naming the council: “Calling sudden meetings, outside of genuine emergencies, can deprive councillors and interested members of the public with the opportunity to participate in them, and erode public confidence in local government.”

He said he’d review the requirements for providing notice. The current local government act says for a “special meeting” notice only needs to be given “before the meeting”, without any minimum window. 

by DAVID BELL

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