In what has been a very big win for transparency, the City of Bayswater will soon start recording their council meetings and posting the recordings online. There may well be some other innovations as well.
On the 3rd of May I submitted the following motion for discussion at the 17th of May Council meeting:
I was a little anxious on this motion because back in June 2012, soon after I became a Councillor, I tabled a similar motion and was unsuccessful. This was repeated two years later after there was a change of some Councillors, however again I was unsuccessful. Fortunately the latest change of Councillors have embraced the concept and it passed 9 For and 1 Against. I acknowledge Cr Fleeton who seconded the motion, Cr Bull who spoke passionately in support of it and the Mayor, Cr McKenna, who said that in light of the actions of other high profile councils, it is important for the City of Bayswater to re-assure our residents that we are open and accountable to them.
No matter whether you are Liberal, Labor or Green, we hopefully all accept that democracy is the best form of government. Transparency is a critical component of democracy, because without access to information how can voters decide whether to reward or punish their representatives at the ballot box? Without transparency electors simply can’t make an informed decision, because we all know you can’t rely on some election material!
I am proud of the in-depth debate which occurs at the City of Bayswater and believe the wider public should be able to hear it, especially on items which concern themselves. As a result of this motion people who are unable or unwilling to come to a Council meeting in person can now have the opportunity to hear what occurs at a time and place of their own choosing.
That said, this is a bold move and there are two disadvantages :
- Legal implications – McLeods have a valid point when they write: “Is it reasonable to suggest then to the Council members that every word they utter in the process of deliberations will be recorded and streamed online, and recordings made available to any member of the public who might decide to put their every word under microscopic scrutiny. Not even well prepared professionals or legal experts could reasonably be expected to withstand that kind of scrutiny, without the potential for regular embarrassment, and criticism and perhaps recrimination and Court action.”
- The cost – I don’t like spending rate-payer funds, and at a cost $90,000 this is a significant expenditure. However at the last Annual Meeting of Electors there was a motion that we get better microphones as some people in the gallery can’t hear what is being said. In addition, there have been random questions in question time raising the same point. I believe that as our audio visual equipment needs to be upgraded, we may as well do it properly.
I am indifferent on whether the meetings are streamed live or whether there is video or not because the main thing is that the audio file is available on the website. However I am very keen for there to be electronic voting. At the staff Christmas party three years ago I raised this with our IT Manager and asked whether he knew if there were any cost-effective applications out there which would enable this. Over the years we’ve had further conversations, but the break through came in December 2015 when new conference equipment was released which incorporates voting functionality within the microphone unit. Electronic voting, and I believe the City of Stirling are going down this path, will enable more accurate minute keeping on how each Councillor voted and also prevent any votes being decided after viewing whether someone’s ‘allies’ have their hands up or down. I am certainly not saying this occurs within Bayswater, but it will help stamp out any perception in the public that it occurs, and hopefully reduce any claims that there is factional voting.
Power to the People.
(Please be aware that these views are my own and have not been endorsed by the City of Bayswater)
Previous – 17 March 2016 – http://chriscornish.info/city-bayswater-transparency/