Of concern to the East Gippsland Community Action Group Inc is East Gippsland Shire Council’s lack of openness, transparency, and perceived secrecy on many matters.
While Section 89 of the Local Government Act 1989 provides for situations where meetings are not open to the public, it appears the law is not being strictly complied with.
Government produced statistics indicate this Shire Council has an abnormally high number of matters dealt with on a confidential basis compared to other Councils in Victoria. For example:
Council decisions made at meetings closed to the public*
East Gippsland Shire Council 22.61%.
Wellington Shire Council 3.63%.
*Source Know Your Council
From the swell of community concern a record number of 39 candidates stood in the 2016 Council election. At the election two major groups of candidates focused on platforms for change to address community concerns and made strong representations in their election materials and advertising to this effect.
Consequently, the electors chose five new Councillors (only four incumbents remained) from these two major groups, and they were elected in response to the representations to sweep in change and for the community to be heard.
While we appreciate it takes time to implement a new agenda, openness and transparency should start from day one.
The Group sought to have the allegations against Cr Ben Buckley put in the public domain but this was rejected.
Article published in the East Gippsland News on 19th July 2017:
“New ratepayer group wants action”.
Acknowledgement to East Gippsland Newspapers.
UPDATE: 21st November 2017
At the General Meeting on 21st November 2017 a Notice of Motion was submitted by Cr Ben Buckley and listed on the Agenda regarding the removal of the “confidential” classification on certain material. The Notice of Motion was edited and the rationale deleted, presumably by council staff.
This is the transcript provided by Linette Treasure of her address to Council on that Motion:
“In regard to Notice of Motion 2.2 I wish to draw Council’s attention to serious breaches of Local Government procedure.
The Local Law states that a Notice of Motion cannot be considered unless it has been listed on the agenda for which it is proposed to be
Any Notice of Motion must comprise the subject, the motion proposed and the supporting rationale.
Provided the Notice of Motion is lodged within 5 working days, the only grounds for rejection is if it is too vague.
Cr Buckley’s motion was lodged in time and it was clearly expressed.
His motion read:
That the declarations of confidentiality decreed by the CEO on 17th December 2015, 16th February 2016 and 10th May, 2016 be deemed no longer confidential.
Last year the Ombudsman released findings from a 9 month investigation of Victorian Councils where a disturbing trend of over-use of “in confidence” was revealed, often used to conceal inappropriate behaviour.
Section 89 of the Local Government Act sets out clear democratic intent in its heading. Meetings to be open to the public. This was
once the norm but has now been degraded by blanket deeming of “in confidence” by a CEO for most discussions.
(Councillors would be aware that while a CEO may designate “in confidence”, a Council has the power to lift this.)
The culture of closed deliberations now covering most Council business needs to change and I request your support to lift the confidentiality
from the Councillor Project 2015.
In a democracy the public has a right to know how its rates and taxes are being spent. Only by opening access for genuine transparency will
some trust be restored to Local Government.?
The serious breach of process before tonight’s meeting is that Cr Buckley’s motion was tampered with and entirely altered and his rationale omitted thus making it unclear and therefore invalid. This was without his permission and constitutes serious interference. No member of staff or CEO has the authority to do this.
Further to this, without formal authorisation by council, the CEO moved the matter into the ‘in camera’ section of tonight’s meeting.
Under the clause 89 (2) (h) only a formal Council motion can designate this clause not the CEO. This is a corruption of the Act.
These are serious breaches of process – raising the question – what is being concealed.
Processes around interference with other Notices of Motion should be scrutinized. Questions are being asked why Cr White was so pressurised to withdraw his Notice of Motion on the mineral sand mine so to gag the public from publicly raising concerns to the whole Council.
Remember, that ultimately, if the law is broken, you as the Council are responsible. Your loyalty should not be to vested interests, but to the people who elected you.”
Article published in the East Gippsland News on 24th November 2017:
“Council chamber hostilities”.
Acknowledgement to East Gippsland Newspapers.