By Kyra Gillespie
A vote to bring power back to ratepayers by allowing supplementary questions at council meetings narrowly passed at Cardinia Shire’s February meeting.
It was one vote by Cr Ray Brown that got the amended law over the line in the absence of Cr Collin Ross and Cr Jeff Springfield on Monday 18 February.The vote was three to two – with Cr Leticia Wilmot and Cr Jodie Owen the only two councillors who voted to ban supplementary questions.
“I was the person who originally moved to remove the supplementary questions from the local law,” Cr Wilmot said.
“I don’t see that allowing this to go through has addressed the risk involved. While I’m happy for supplementary questions to be answered I don’t think we’ve got enough controls in place to make sure the risk is minimised.
“It’s our job as councillors to ensure council is exposed to as little risk as possible.”
Under the new law, a supplementary question ‘may be permitted’ at the discretion of the chairperson and only if it is to clarify the answer given.
Council originally attempted to ban supplementary questions in September last year after a number of council meetings were derailed by unfiltered rants by gallery members.
However an overwhelming community backlash forced council to bring the matter back to the table.
Lakeside Residents Group secretary Tony O’Hara, who was outspoken about the initial supplementary question ban, believes the council has made the right decision.
“(I’m) very happy that common-sense has prevailed,” he said.
“The recommended amendment to the local law will allow supplementary questions, with sensible conditions applied.”
Cr Michael Schilling said the banning of supplementary questions would “place a gag on local democracy.”
“I’m not willing to go backwards and disallow supplementary questions… the community elected us to sit here around the table, and if their question isn’t clarified properly, I feel that it’s perfectly reasonable for them to be able to ask a supplementary question,” he said.
“Just because these meetings are live streamed, it doesn’t mean nothing can be put in place… it’s as simple as turning down volume on the camera. To me the risk from supplementary questions is incredibly minimal.”
Although no community submissions were lodged regarding the initial ban, several suggestions were made on the council’s social media channels.
These suggestions included:
• Webcast the meetings with a time delay to allow for the removal of comments that are made during the meeting that may be defamatory.
• Provide for the webcast to be stopped during the broadcast if comments are made that may be defamatory.
• Stop the webcast during community question time to allow for the questioners to ask supplementary questions.