As a newly elected Council is finding its feet in Monash this is a good time to reflect on the achievements and future role of EM&U. As always we welcome the input of community members.
EM&U was an initiative of a group of diverse active people, most of whom first met through the Save Monash Gardens campaign in 2013 /14. Throughout the aged care sale process the community contended Monash Council was not transparent or consultative. Aged care residents, their relatives and the staff were not involved in the decision process.
EM&U was formed to continue working towards better governance in Monash Council. The aim was to better inform the community of any future Monash Council plans, to advocate for community involvement in the decision making process and to ensure the community were listened to. We feel that EM&U has achieved significant progression toward achieving these goals over the last 3 years. In saying the EM&U has achieved this is saying YOU, the community of Monash, have achieved this. We thank you for working with us.
EM&U and community members supported or encouraged some of the following City of Monash matters:
An improved public question time
Community members have found Public Question Time is more of a brick wall than an opportunity for interactive communication and empowerment. It was stressed to Council on many occasions that the Local law relating to Public Question time should be reviewed to ensure that there are no barriers to community members asking questions and receiving appropriate responses from their council, about issues affecting them. EM&U has supported a change relating to Public Question Time.
EM&U approaches to Council on Public Question time received no interest or uptake. However, as candidates advocated for election in the 2016 Council election this issue was often raised. Why? Candidates knew this was a matter of importance to the community and they needed to work on community concerns to be elected.
We are pleased to say the first steps towards improving this situation have been taken by the newly elected Council.
EM&U have advocated for live streaming or recording of council meetings to be implemented, to ensure community have access to Council proceedings, especially for those who are unable to attend council meetings. This will also ensure a more inclusive and transparent Council.
Monash Council, under Mayor Klisaris, knocked our submission for recording and broadcasting back. He claimed it would cost $60,000 and the Council couldn’t afford this inclusive measure. (He did spend $37,000 on a lunch in Oakleigh.) He claimed privacy would be breached, yet the meetings are public anyway. Now, as the local government department puts streaming forward as a favourable transperancy measure, Monash Council acts.
EM&U supported the community for a vision of a peoples’ space in Glen Waverley and a healthier lifestyle for those living, working in or visiting the area. Several groups initiated submissions on open space on Glen Waverley Central Car Park. The groups combined and well-developed and researched submissions were presented to Council. The proposals included underground car parking with easy access to shops. A green and open space would provide an inclusive meeting place and as one real estate manager commented, ‘It would make Glen Waverley.’ Importantly, the proposal asked Monash Council NOT to proceed with the Expressions of Interest (EOIs). As in the sale of residential aged care dispute the Council went ahead regardless of the numbers of people in the community asking for a different course of action.
Throughout the community feedback process on this project the community appeared to believe the issue was whether or not the Glen Waverley Library was updated and modernised i.e. by shifting it to Central Car Park. This was not the issue at hand. There was no reason to stop the Library being updated and modernised on its current site. In fact, many in the community prefer this option. In this case the Council’s marketing was clouding community understanding. Many people still do not understand the high probability of high rise buildings being erected on Central Car Park alongside the library.
IMPORTANT NOTE:The Council has NOT announced the results of the tender process so please keep expressing your views on open and green space in Central Glen Waverley to your Councillors.
Residential zoning and development has been a huge issue of concern to people across Monash. Whether it is the creek escarpment, McMansions, the loss of sunshine and greenery or access to local schools, the increased development and changing nature of Monash has affected everyone. EM&U has given community members a place to voice their concerns. There is an unequal access to media and communication. The Council has a smooth media machine and access to publications. It is harder for the community and EM&U has done what it can to provide an outlet for community information.
EM&U supporters were active presenting to Planning Panels Victoria on their visits to Monash. At the last meeting the newly elected Council voted to accept the Council Officers recommendations on the Planning Panel Report.
The Monash community has frequently requested the Council to involve, collaborate with and empower the community i.e. use the higher levels of the IAP2 Public Participation Spectrum http://www.iap2.org.au/documents/item/84
Looking into the future of Empowering Monash and YOU
The purpose of EM&U was to foster a community where all community members have access to knowledge, community services and media. Community members should be partners in democratic decision making in local government and engaged at the community level and be actively involved in advocating for areas considered a social responsibility, including quality in aged care and inclusive practice. We do hope that the Council will endeavour to make improvements and give the community an opportunity to have a say in the near future.
As key people take on different roles in their lives we question where EM&U is going. At this point in time the emphasis is on the Facebook page. Time will tell whether there is a role to play into the future. We welcome your views.
Thank you for your support and please, follow us on Facebook.
I took the time to read through this report and found it very informative and interesting that it revealed some issues relating to Councils. Community members had reasonable concerns about transparency in their Councils and in fact there were many complaints made to the Ombudsman.
“This investigation arose from a single complaint about a decision made in a closed council meeting – a practice that we found to be widespread across Victoria. Some complaints resonate as a theme: local councils continue to account for some 25 per cent of jurisdictional complaints to my office – more than 3,400 last year. People complaining to my office about council decisions periodically refer to the decision being made “in secret” or “behind closed doors” as evidence to support their concerns. I tabled the report into the original complaint in June 2016, but this has been a far wider investigation, looking at the transparency of decision-making within local government in Victoria.” Source: Deborah Glass Ombudsman.
As part of the investigation 79 Victorian councils were surveyed and 12 were selected to be examined in detail.
The areas of focus were:
• the closure of council meetings and special committee meetings to the public
• the handling of confidential matters
• the nature and quality of audio and visual records of meetings and the public’s ability to access records
• the scope and exercise of delegated council functions/powers and administrative actions; and the reporting of these to council and the public
• the nature and content of information discussed in ‘assemblies of councillors’
Due to the findings, there were specific recommendations made in the report to be introduced or implemented. Here is a summary of some of the recommendations or suggestions:
• relating to the Local Government Act, a requirement for more detailed reasons in relation to the closure of meetings to be specified in the minutes and that embarrassment to, or potential adverse criticism of, council are not reasons to close a meeting to the public
• implement a mandatory ‘Code of Councillor Conduct’ training program
• conflict of interest requirements to extend to advisory committee members and to have an updated list of committees on a Council’s website
• ensure that agendas are made available to public five days before a council meeting
• public questions and answers to be recorded in minutes, through audio or audio-visual recording and publication, as well as posting recorded open meetings to council websites
Did you know about section 15 ‘Your right to freedom of expression’under the Human Rights Charter?
“People are free to say what they think and want to say. They have the right to find, receive and share information and ideas. In general, this right might be limited to respect the rights and reputation of other people, or for the protection of public safety and order.” Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission
How does this right play a role in Council? As stated in the report:
“Councils also need to take care regarding restrictions on public question time. Unreasonable restrictions have the potential to be incompatible with not only the right to participate in public life, but the right to freedom of expression in section 15 of the Charter. For example, where councils require questions in writing prior to meetings, they should ensure there is appropriate assistance available to those who may have difficulty placing their question in writing. A number of councils mentioned they offered such assistance. Councils should also ensure that any restriction on the content of questions or submissions by members of the public at meetings which could be considered to limit their right to freedom of expression is appropriately balanced with any lawful restrictions reasonably necessary to respect the rights and reputation of other persons or national security, public order, public health or public morality.”
You will also find a summary of transparency in the report:
Monash Council has introduced measures to improve the functioning of Council meetings. However many believe that Council meetings are now more like a school classroom. “If people behave like children and act in an unprofessional way, they can expect to be treated like children. I make no apologies for that. I was elected Mayor a few weeks ago to fix our dysfunctional meetings and I am determined to do that” stated Mayor Geoff Lake –Hands on heads improves Monash Council meeting.Councillors were required to place hands on their head if they wish to raise a point of order.
Now after spending $10,000 on his idea of a behaviour monitor and taping the meetings (which other Councillors were not allowed to assess) Mayor Geoff Lake wants to relax the ‘Hands on head’ requirement!
Snippets of Motion Document:
Cr Geoff Lake
“I proposed that these matters be raised by a councillor silently signalling their desire to raise a Point of Order or move a Procedural Motion. In the case of a Point of Order, this could be done by placing both hands on their head. In the case of a Procedural Motion, it was by placing one hand on their head. Although ‘novel’ and ridiculed by some, the adoption of these measures immediately improved the functioning of our meetings. Since the May meeting, we have barely had a single Point of Order and no disruptive Procedural Motion raised. Part of the reason for this improvement has been because the signalling process meant that it was immediately apparent what it is that a councillor is wishing to raise – i.e. a Point of Order or a Procedural Motion – and the mayor is placed in the position of being able to immediately and specifically engage the Councillor on the matter they are raising. These measures have succeeded in making Points of Order and Procedural Motions an exception rather than the norm they had previously become. As I said at the time of proposing these reforms, I am not concerned in the slightest if requiring someone to put their hands on their head does dis-incentivise a councillor from Council Meeting, 19 October 2016 Section 7.3 – Page 4 Mission Accomplished: time To Relax the ‘Hands On Heads’ Requirements moving these – as we were getting far too many of these interventions than was warranted or reasonable. Indeed we were getting more Points of Order and Procedural Motions raised at a single meeting than what was experienced across the entire previous four year Council term. I am pleased that since the May reforms, we are once again back to how things were in the previous term.”
“I thank all councillors and attendees in the Public Gallery for contributing to the improvement of our meetings. Given this improvement being sustained over the past five months, I recommend to Council that we now relax the more contentious and onerous elements of the Supplementary Standing Orders (i.e. the ‘hands on head’ requirements) because the objectives of these measures have now been realised. With a new Council to take office from the November meeting onwards, it is appropriate in my view that it be given the chance to conduct its meetings in the professional and respectful way expected by our community without the need for these more extraordinary measures which were unfortunately necessary five months ago.” Source: Motion to relax ‘hands on head’ requirement.
But why is he adding the motion now? The requirement was not relaxed when community was so against it?
Is it really due to the excuse that behaviour has been improved or is itpossible, due to the Monash Council elections and voting by the 21 October 2016? What do you think? Leave your comments by clicking on the Leave a Comment button above.
Postal ballot packs were mailed out last week (October 4, 5 and 6). Votes must be returned (in the mail) by 6pm on Friday, October 21. Votes will be counted (per latest advice) on Saturday, 29 and the results are due to be announced on the 31st.
Because of the election schedule, the regular monthly meeting, will be held at the Monash Civic Centre (293 Springvale Road, Glen Waverley) on Wednesday 19 October, from 7pm. This meeting is being held earlier in the month due to the Council elections in late October.
The meeting’s agenda (and associated reports) will be available from 5pm on Friday 14 October at Agendas and Minutes. Questions for public question time must be submitted by midday on Tuesday, 18 October.
Why is it that a simple question at council does not get a simple, direct answer?
Over the past three years I have regularly attended Monash Council meetings and often asked questions in public question time. Council gives a “written response”. The name “response” is apt because the “response” rarely is an “answer” to the question that is asked.
By way of example: on September 27, an amendment to Council’s Financial Hardship Policy was proposed and, while well intentioned, it offers benefits to one group of struggling ratepayers while denying the same to others in equally straitened circumstances. I asked why this was. The response was a long-winded, contradictory evasion. Judge for yourself.
The Proposed Policy Amendment
Extract from Monash Council Agenda – September 27, 2016
My Question To Council Tonight
Compassion for ratepayers suffering financial hardship is commendable; no question.
I have lived in Monash for 30 years.
18 months ago I downsized near to Boyanna Rd.
12 months ago (remember, we’re imagining), aged 57, too ill to work I invoked my income protection insurance (reduced income, no pension, huge medical bills).
3 months ago revaluation doubled my CIV and increased my rates by 40%.
I qualify under council’s hardship provisions for interest rate relief on deferred rates (part 1 of the amendment).
Next door is an older, struggling pensioner who moved into Monash for the first time eleven years ago who qualifies for zero interest (part 2 of the amendment).
What is the difference in NEED between these two hypothetical ratepayers that warrants preferential treatment of one over the other?
The question is not critical of the idea that relief should be offered – in fact it applauds the concept. The question points out the inequities based on the assumption that two ratepayers are both suffering extreme financial hardship yet they are treated differently:
I have no pension yet, hypothetically, I have no more disposable cash than the pensioner next door
I am not receiving any government assistance because I am funding myself through my own income protection insurance yet I am eligible for less public assistance than my neighbour
I have lived in Monash, paying rates, for 19 years more than the pensioner yet, having moved house recently, I am penalised in comparison
I am too ill to work yet, being younger, may well have more years ahead of me in which to accumulate a compounding burden of interest on my deferred rates jeopardising far more of the equity in my home
Councillor Lake’s response on behalf of council (he has couched it in the first person so I believe it fair to attribute it personally to him) follows below with embedded comments.
Thank you for your question. At the outset, assuming both have applied for deferred payments under the proposed amendment, they would both be better off than under the current policy. My proposal, as set out in Item 7.2, is seeking Council approval to reduce the interest rate charged for the deferral of Council rates for persons qualifying under our Financial Hardship Policy. This represents a reduction from the current 4.75% to 2.5% per annum. The current 4.75% rate which applies is already lower than the proscribed statutory rate of 9.5% and follows the development of Council’s current hardship policy which I instigated around two years ago. So an interest rate of 2.5% on deferred rates would be the outcome for your hypothetical non-pensioner in the example you have proposed. That is an interest rate substantially lower than anything else commercially available at the moment.
My question asked about the unequal treatment of two struggling ratepayers. The fact that both get a reduced rate was never in question and the fact that both are better off than under the current policy does not address the inequity.
Commercial interest rates are irrelevant – governments are not commercial entities. And the fact remains that, in these straitened circumstances, any interest rate compounds the debt accumulating against my property. The question is not about whether or not a rates debt ultimately needs to be paid regardless of personal circumstances, it asked about the different treatment of two disadvantaged people.
In the proposed Notice of Motion I am also seeking councillor support to reduce the interest rate charged on deferred rates for eligible aged pensioners to 0% where a person is over the age of 65 and can prove they have lived in their home for more than 10 years.
The latter approach recognises a person who has passed the current age in Australia when someone becomes eligible to apply for the Age Pension. This approach is proposed by me to offer residents of pensionable age an ability to live completely free of any concern around the payment of their Council rates. This is in response to the dozens of pensioners I have spoken to over the past month, and the hundreds who have responded to Council’s petition to the state government, who have told me about the significant impact on their life arising from the significant rate increase they have received because of property values increasing substantially.
Being older doesn’t mean the financial hardship is greater. Being an aged-pensioner (but not a disability or other pensioner) does not mean you’re, automatically, harder up. Financial Hardship is a question of your ability to pay your rates bill without being put in a situation where you cannot pay for the necessities of life and neither age nor pension status change that.
The requirement to prove that a person has lived in their home for at least 10 years is also unfair. In the example I cited, I was well and truly qualified on this count until I downsized. After living in my own home for 28.5 years I downsized and, 18 months later, in serious financial hardship, I’m told I don’t qualify for help because I haven’t lived there for long enough.
Still the inequities, the subject of the question, is not addressed.
If my changes are supported tonight, aged pensioners with more than 10 years living and contributing to our community, can choose not to pay another dollar in rates and be completely confident that over time interest will not reduce the equity they have paid off in their home. Their rates will simply sit as a charge against their property to be recouped by Council when the property is sold. This in an option which will not be for everyone but it does offer immediate financial relief to anyone who is otherwise feeling they have no other choice but to leave the local area they have lived in for most of their life.
And there is the contradiction.
The hypothetical me in the example has lived and contributed to our community for nearly three times as long as the hypothetical pensioner but it’s the pensioner who gets the benefit described in this paragraph and the long term resident who misses out. It’s the long term resident who, contrary to the comment above, may “have no other choice but to leave the local area they have lived in for most of their life”.
But what is even worse here is the underlying implication that compassion must first be earned – “…aged pensioners with more than 10 years living and contributing to our community…” are worthy or more care and compassion than others!
When it comes to council rates, age pensioner ratepayers are the most vulnerable section of our community because they are living off very low fixed incomes with little prospect of increasing their income in real terms in the future. The proposed amendments will provide some immediate relief to some of those most in need. This is in addition to our strong advocacy around these mattes to the state government and my proposal tonight represents assertive action we can take ourselves right now.
Pensioners are vulnerable. Invalids are vulnerable. The chronically ill, unemployed and many others are vulnerable. They all live of very low fixed incomes.
It is true that the hypothetical me may recover and resume working and earning in which case I’d have to start to repay my deferred rates. But I may have already been forced to sell up to escape an increasing and insurmountable interest burden despite having lived and contributed to the local community for most of my life.
So, I return the the question which was not answered:
What is the difference in NEED between these two hypothetical ratepayers that warrants preferential treatment of one over the other?
Why Can’t Citizens Get Answers?
When you consider the above example the only answer I can see is that there is no legitimate reason for the different treatment. If it’s fair to charge one person 2.5% interest on deferred rates when they’re in financial hardship then it’s fair to charge everyone 2.5%. If it’s fair to grant a 0% interest rate to one person then it’s fair to grant it to everyone.
And if that’s true then the answer to the question asked is very short and direct, “There is no difference in their needs, I will amend my proposal to recognise the unintended inequities”.
Time for a Change to Question Time
The final insult to the community in the above example is that my question was required to be kept to no more than 100 words (I got away with a few extra this time) but Council responses face no such restraint. Cr Lake’s response used six paragraphs, about 500 words, to NOT answer the question.
After an extensive community consultation plan on Amendment C120 to the Monash Planning Scheme (Glen Waverley Activity Centre) a Monash Council Report recommends NO CHANGE to the Planning Scheme.
The Council held Information Sessions and sought information at Listening Posts. Have they listened? Have they read the letters, emails and submissions from community members? It appears not really.
The Council Report is recommending an Independent Panel appointed by the Minister for Planning consider the submissions. It remains to be seen whether the panel will understand the people, nature and heart beat of Glen Waverley and surrounds.
The submission put forward by 39 people associated with Empowering Monash and YOU, for green and open space managed by the people on the Central Car Park area, was not accepted.
The Report will go to the Council Meeting on Tuesday 27 October, 7.30 pm at Clayton Community Centre. Councillors will vote on whether to accept the report. You have until noon Monday 26 October to submit questions for Public Question Time. Whether or not you are asking a question please come along to support those that do and to see how the Councillors in your ward vote.
The City of Greater Dandenong Council is proposing to sell part of Glendale Reserve located at Whitworth Avenue, which is very much-loved and highly used by community members. The land is occupied by the existing kindergarten and scout hall (used by the Scout Association).
The Council proposes to sell the land to property owners, Minaret College (Islamic School) to be used. If Council goes ahead with the sale the land will need to be rezoned and the reserve status removed.
Submissions on the proposal from the community were accepted by the council and they had the opportunity to express their views at a consultation meeting, with majority of attendees against the sale.
Residents and community members protest that the Glendale Reserve is one of the only green spaces around that area. Buildings on the land can be demolished and will be more open space. This will cater to future generations, young and old. There is a high rate of couples with children in Springvale and the need for open space for children to play and be outdoors. Many children may spend more time on the internet or watching TV due to a lack of open space and a lack of exercise is detrimental to their physical health.
Other communities are fighting for more open space as important for the wellbeing of the community.
Low levels of exercise and obesity is a concern as well as chronic disease. The Greater Dandenong Council CWP Priorities and Objectives 2013-17 states that for recreation, facilities and programs are provided which will help increase participation in sport, leisure and the arts. More participation in physical activity results from providing adequate, good quality parks and open spaces.http://www.greaterdandenong.com/document/25455/community-wellbeing-plan-2010-13
Minaret college who is leasing the kindergarten has planned to expand the building if purchase the land. However the council report summary of the proposed sale states that the traffic within Whitworth Avenue can become very congested at the peak school times. By Minaret continuing to expand on this location and increasing the size of the kindergarten, this will only add to an existing concern. http://www.greaterdandenong.com/document/27619/council-minutes-27-january-2015
The Council did mention that if sold, funds could be used to purchase more open space in Springvale North. However in the past another reserve Erickson Gardens was sold to build a new Police Station and had the opportunity to use funds to increase open space, it has not done so. In fact their open strategy report revealed that it is lacking in open space in that area and many other areas in Springvale.http://www.greaterdandenong.com/document/25797/open-space-strategy
There needs to be some balance. If allow for this to happen what will stop others doing the same in other areas. The council need to keep this land and consider the consequences if go ahead and sell.
Take a stand now to save the reserve! Attend the Council meeting on 10 August 2015 at 7pm to show your support. Councillors need to know!
Venue: Council Chambers Level 2, 225 Lonsdale Street, Dandenong
Note we reserve the right to choose which letters we will publish. Abusive, offensive material and material not focussed on the community will not be published.
The email below was sent to Leader Press on 17 June:
It was pleasing, at the Monash Council Committee meeting 16 June, to see a reduced power distance between Councillors and Public Gallery. Gallery members who had not made submissions were allowed to speak and ask questions. Whether due to the particular composition of the gallery or a desire to genuinely consult with the community this is a refreshing change from a Council that has rigidly stuck to seventies style procedures and local laws.
The Council needs to go further and revise Local Law 1 to be more in line with other Councils and current business practices. Public Question Time procedures need to be updated allowing members of the public to ask questions and questions to be submitted before the meeting starts (instead of the day before). Meetings should be broadcast for those who cannot attend. Currently there are groups in our community who are unable to attend meetings. Examples are people with disabilities, elderly who do not go out at night and shift workers.
Let’s hope “the times they are a-changing”.
Tonight’s (16 Dec) Monash Council meeting agenda includes a motion ‘Taking Council to the People’ by rotating Council meeting venues in 2015. The goals of the motion are not stated by the title implies the aim is improve community access to Council proceedings.
As Monash Council invites feedback from constituents I decided to provide feedback on an issue I had been pondering for some time: live streaming and recording of meetings. My previous work places used such communication methods and my personal view was this would greatly aid community education and engagement in Council meetings.
What do you think?
Would you like to see live streaming and /or recording of meetings?
Please read the correspondence below and leave your comments.
My reply to Monash Council email 16 Dec 2014. Note: original Email reply received from Monash Council on 15 Dec 2014 is in black text with my response in red text.
Further below, in green text is my original email 14 Dec 2014.
I am rather taken aback at the reply I have received (on your behalf) to my email 15 Dec 14 requesting Council consider recording and streaming of Council meetings. In particular in regard to discovering a review of Local Law 1 was carried out in 2013: I have no recollection of this and I wonder whether there was any public consultation. So soon after a review I would have expected Monash to have more transparent and engaging meeting procedures.
Further comments to the email are inserted in red italics in your email text below.
I refer to your 14 December 2014 e-mail to the Mayor, Cr Klisaris, regarding webcasting/streaming of Council meetings.
The Mayor has requested me to provide you with a response on his behalf.
Thank you. I await the Mayor’s response on issues not addressed in the reply email e.g. the need to revamp Public Question Time.
An internal review of the Council’s Meeting Procedures Local Law No.1 was undertaken in late 2013. Part of the review included investigating webcasting/streaming of Council meetings.
The community is very aware of the review of Local Law 3 but this is the first I have heard of a review of Local Law 1. Evidently community feedback was not sought on this process. Community members who have tried to communicate with Council have much constructive feedback they could input to such a process. Would you make public all aspects of Local Law 1 that were considered during this review and the nature of public consultation?
The review found the following:
A small number of Councils currently stream Council meetings. These include Greater Dandenong, Nillumbik and Hobsons Bay.
As far as I can ascertain the following Councils are currently streaming or recording meetings and making these available online: Bayside (last recording 8 Dec 14), Campaspe (16 Dec), Cardinia (17 Nov 14), Hobsons Bay (2 Dec 14), Manningham (2 Dec 14), Wellington (5 Nov 14).
The small number of Councils streaming may be in part due to the poor financial situation some Councils are in. Monash Council is in a position to allocate funds to such a project and with 2014-2015 Budget currently being formulated revisiting this issue is timely. Unfortunately, there is no opportunity for community members to have input on the drafting of the budget.
The Shire of Cardinia and the cities of Melbourne and Greater Dandenong were involved in webcasting some years ago, when the Municipal Association of Victoria assisted interested Councils with funding, for a trial of webcasting. Both Melbourne and Cardinia ceased their webcasting, once the trial concluded. The ongoing costs, support and risk-related issues (please see the comments below from Council’s insurer) appear to have played a part in that decision.
The City of Greater Dandenong last posted a recording online for its meeting on 8 December 2014, the Shire of Cardinia on 17 November 2014. If they are still recording they have found the MAV trial had some worthwhile results and, by implication, have a case for value gained against cost.
Cardinia Shire Council recently re-visited the issue, but resolved not to pursue it. It costed the establishment of streaming at approximately $60,000. This cost involves the purchase of equipment, such as cameras, technical set up in the Council Chamber, technical support at meetings and costs for a carrier. The costs excluded staff training and possible editing of content. Cardinia’s assessment was that the cost of providing the service, relative to the likely demand within, and benefit to, the Cardinia community, appeared to be a major impediment at this point in time.
Cardinia Shire Council must have valued the importance of transparency and communicating with the community. They are using the less expensive option of MP3s to put 2014 meeting recordings online.
Was a comparison made of the requirements in Cardinia compared to the requirements in Monash? What other investigations were made of set ups for other Councils e.g. Melton where only audio recording is used? Do we need ‘state of art’ technology to meet the goal of communicating with the community? The appearance of an impediment in Cardinia is hardly a case for not pursuing the possibilities further in Monash. As the technology and skills are readily available across local industry and government sectors the Council needs to explore the options from many perspectives rather than randomly quoting an example.
The City of Yarra also considered webcasting, but decided not to pursue it. Issues of privacy, consent from members of the public to broadcast their images, etc, were cited as part of the reason Yarra was not pursuing webcasting.
The issue of content management has been raised by a number of Councils in relation to their assessment of whether to pursue webcasting or podcasting.
Privacy was another matter of concern. Concerns were raised about the reach of the ‘world wide web’ and individuals’ (usually members of the public) identities being placed on it. Consent would have to be obtained from any person who wished to make a submission or ask a question, for their appearance at the Council meeting to be recorded. These concerns were expressed where a Council provides for a high level of engagement/participation in a Council meeting by the community.
Again these issues need to be raised but with the purpose of providing a solution e.g. Greater Dandenong Council reads questions on behalf of the community member asking the question. Examples of Policies and Procedures for dealing with the issues are available online on government, university and other business web sites. As Monash persists with submitted questions the day before the meeting it would be easy to put a permission slip on a pro forma to be used. The questioner could tick boxes as to whether they will be filmed or a Council Office requested to ask their question and that they have read conditions/requirements/disclaimer regarding giving permission to be filmed/recorded. I accept a legal perspective on this approach is needed.
Webcasting has received a significant amount of attention in the sector in recent years, from a risk management perspective. Council’s insurer has provided advice, of a general nature, to Councils on webcasting. The insurer has listed the following risks relating to webcasting of Council meetings:
Public Council meetings are an open forum of statements, questions and answers. Occasionally, some things that are said may be regarded as offensive or defamatory, even though they are not at law, written material. When such statements occur during a meeting that is not webcast the potential for damage is confined to the audience in attendance.
In contrast, when a meeting is webcast the audience is potentially far greater, increasing the likelihood and/or severity of potential liability. Outlined below are some of the risks associated with webcasting, including defamation. The risks identified generally relate to the content of a meeting and the legal effect of publishing the content over the internet.
Councillors and members of the public attending meetings are not outside the law or responsibility to act in an ethical manner. The rest of the workforce conducts itself in an ethical and law abiding manner. Why should Monash Councillors be exempt? Are they breaking the law or acting unethically now? If a Councillor believes their behaviour in Council will step outside the law e.g. defaming a person, infringing copyright, I really hope they will step down and allow the community to elect a representative who can perform to regular work place quality standards.
In properly conducted Council meetings wouldn’t the risk factor be low? Did legal staff give an estimate of what it might be? Can copyright be breached and defamation occur in a vetted 100 word question?
There are ‘safety’ measures that can be employed to further minimise risk e.g. time delays between Chamber taping and publishing on the web, provision for the recording to be halted (and restarted) should a legal issue arise and prior notice (with reasons) for not recording some agenda items. This technology is not new, but widely used in workplaces. There is plenty of experience to draw on.
In summary Council needs to seek further appropriate legal advice and develop policy and procedures in accordance with best practice in this field. A Council that has cash reserves, such as Monash Council, should be able to undertake this and consider insurance.
However, before a cost benefit analysis can be effectively done the issue needs to be put to the community. The people who most need this facility do not appear to have been consulted.
Defamation occurs when statements are made about a person, which causes injury to that person’s reputation. A defamatory statement can be in written form, or in verbal form. Council may be liable for defamatory statements made by Councillors and the public during a Council meeting. This liability is increased if the meeting is webcast.
Infringement of Copyright
A copyright owner has certain exclusive rights over their work. Infringement of copyright occurs when a person uses copyright material without the consent of the owner and the use contravenes one or more of the ‘exclusive rights’ of the owner. If someone at a Council meeting reads material subject to copyright, without the consent of the copyright owner, the person may have violated the copyright owner’s exclusive right to reproduce the material, if published as a webcast.
Breach of Privacy/Disclosure of Personal Information
Councils are required to comply with the Information Privacy Principles contained within the thenInformation Privacy Act (now superseded by the Data Protection and Privacy Act 2014). Councils may be liable for breach of the Information Privacy Principles if Councillors or Council Officers are found to have used, or disclosed, personal, health or sensitive information about individuals during a Council meeting and that information is webcast.
Publishing of Offensive Material
Council may be liable for a criminal offence under Commonwealth censorship legislation if it publishes content through a webcast relating to sex, drugs or violence, which is likely to cause offence to a reasonable person.
Councils are covered for any defamatory ‘publication’ that occurs as a result of webcasting activities subject to the other terms and conditions of its insurance policy. The policy would, for example, cover the Council’s liability for inadvertently webcasting a deliberate, malicious defamatory comment. However, a Councillor or Officer knowingly making a deliberately malicious or defamatory statement would not be covered.
Councils are provided with coverage in risk areas of defamation, infringement of copyright and privacy breaches. But that coverage does not extend to liability arising from publishing defamatory statements made by third parties i.e. members of the public. Coverage is also subject to existing policy conditions, in particular a Council demonstrating that it acted with ‘reasonable care’.
Pre-recorded or live broadcasts
The insurer recommends that Councils pre-record the webcast and ensure that it is thoroughly reviewed and signed off by an authorised member of Council before the webcast is made publicly available. For those Councils which prefer to broadcast meetings live or only with a short delay, it is important that a procedure is followed for the identification and treatment of problematic content (e.g. termination of webcast). A Council’s decision to pre‐record or broadcast live should take into consideration the level of risk exposure it is willing to retain.
A Council would need to consider whether the webcast will be made available for download at a later date or will only be accessible via Council’s website as a live broadcast. Both present risks.
A downloadable webcast can be viewed several times and may reach a greater audience than a live broadcast, thus increasing the potential of a claim arising. On the other hand, defamatory content is more likely to be found in a live broadcast which has undergone little or no editing compared to a pre-recorded (downloadable) webcast.
Members of the Public
A Council should ensure members of the public attending the Council meeting are notified of the webcast and obtain their written consent to record and publish their likeness and/or voice as part of the webcast.
Councils may consider accompanying the webcast with a disclaimer, to provide some limited protection from liability. Generally, a disclaimer will include words to the effect that the opinions or statements made during the course of the Council meeting are those of the particular individual and not the opinions or statements of Council. The disclaimer can be included as part of the broadcast or separately as a link on the webpage prior to opening the link to the actual webcast. Councils should seek independent legal advice on the appropriate wording of a disclaimer to ensure that it meets Councils specific requirements.
Council should seek independent legal advice if in doubt about the appropriateness of the content of a webcast, prior to making it available.
For the reasons articulated above, the Council has not pursued webcasting/streaming of Council meetings.
This email, Monash Council’s answer to feedback on an issue I know to be of concern to some of the community (streaming or recording of meetings), indicates no willingness to engage the community. Once again it appears Council has acted in a reactive rather than proactive manner, dismissing feedback rather than taking it on. Council could, for example, engage the community and contact the new Local Government Minister, LGAV, other Councils, businesses, to create the possibility of working through this issue and improving Council communication.
I look forward to responses to my questions above.
Email sent to Mayor Cr Paul Klisaris 14 Dec 2014
I note with much interest your motion for Tuesday evening’s meeting to take the Council meetings to different venues throughout 2015. An initiative to encourage more community members to be at least present at Council meetings is very welcome.
May I suggest the issue of live streaming and recording of meetings be revisited (Monash Leader August 6 2013). The live streaming and recording of meetings will greatly increase the opportunities to educate and involve the community in local government. In particular Monash’s increasing senior and elderly community will have access to Council proceedings – if not in their homes through the Library and Senior Citiizens groups that have access to and capability with technology. Younger community members may also be more connected through such media use. Councillors, the community and the media will have access to accurate records of proceedings facilitating better reporting, communication and understanding.
Cr Drieberg indicates in the August 6 article that visits to public areas are a replacement for recordings. I contend, while Listening Posts are a welcome initiative, they largely serve a different purpose to the streaming and recording of meetings. The Listening Posts give members of the public the chance to pursue personal interests or to clarify concerns, whereas live streaming and recording of meetings gives the public a broader view of Council’s function and instant and efficient access to local government processes and procedures. A potential for translating meetings exists.
Below I have listed some Councils who are already streaming and/or recording – it is far from an exhaustive list. It would be nice to see Monash Council up there with the more innovative Councils and taking on more progressive and innovative approaches to community engagement.
I would like to point out I was going to put this in a question for Public Question Time but I am so fed up with the antiquated process Monash hides behind. I have squeezed my questions into the required 100 words only to find the meaning of the question is harder to discern, stood there and read it out and listened to a reply being read, a reply that usually does not address the essence of my query. Others express similar experiences. Public Question Time is a farce. Proactive Councils allow more questions per person, questions to be submitted just before the meeting starts, longer time periods for question time, a right of reply and public submissions on matters of interest. Hopefully you can develop Public Question Time into a more productive contributor to Council meetings and communication with the local community.
Please note I have copied this email to all Councillors, Dr Andi Diamond, EM&U supporters and the Leader Press.