Verbal and written submissions on Ballarat City Council’s Draft Governance Rules were heard at an Unscheduled Council Meeting last night.
The Governance Rules are a requirement of the Local Government Act 2020 and outline how the community can take part in council meetings.
Ballarat City Council adopted its first Governance Rules on 26 August 2020 but with the proviso these would be reviewed within 12 months due to both legislative changes and a newly elected Council.
As a result, the Governance Rules were revised and presented to the 22 September 2021 meeting, where Council voted to send them out for further community feedback.
Key proposed changes include:
- Clarification around the mayor’s election
- Public Question Time changes, and submissions to be received in advance to enable community members to receive full and timely responses at council meetings
- Clarity on asking questions during debate to ensure good governance in decision making
- An extra rule for a consistent approach to bereavement motion inclusion in council meetings
- Changes to Conflict of Interest Register management
- Clarity on advisory committees’ reporting obligations
Submissions were open between Tuesday 23 September and Thursday 14 October.
Seven submissions were received, with three presenting their submissions in person last night.
The main concerns revolved around changes to Public Question Time, including
- The Council Meeting is a very important democratic process, and a verbal spontaneous response is more informative
- Question should be delivered by the person asking the question and not by an officer
- Removes opportunity for ordinary community members to personally ask a question of Council and makes Council look less transparent
- Does not support the question’s author not being present at the meeting as it does not allow Councillors to ask clarification questions
- Could be seen as taking away the publics’ right
- Not transparent under the Local Government Act 2020’s transparency rules
- Previously benefitted from the public question time process and believe it is a unique and democratic access to Council
- Changes are an affront to democracy
- Reduces the right of citizens to engage in public dialogue with their elected representatives
Other concerns included:
- Clarification around when public representation registrations will close and when the agenda will be available on Council’s website
- Does not support the removal of advisory committee written reports in the agenda
The Draft Governance Rules will be debated at the Wednesday 24 November Council Meeting.
City of Ballarat CEO Evan King said it was very important to get submissions on the proposed changes to ensure the community has the opportunity to have its say.
“These are changes to Council Meeting processes that will improve good governance and transparency but it will also affect how community members can interact with Councillors and Council officers at meetings so it is vital we hear how it will affect them as well,” Mr King said.