Tweed locals and others wanting to lobby for change will be allowed to send petitions to council electronically after Tweed shire councillors accepted updating its policy on the practice.
It will make Tweed Council only the second local-government authority in NSW to accept online or e-petitions, which are usually signed through forms from websites, a practice becoming widespread with the surge in social media networking.
But not all Tweed councillors were happy with the plan, with conservative Crs Warren Polglase and Phil Youngblutt opposing the move in the 5-2 vote to adopt the change and place it on public exhibition for a month.
Cr Polglase, who moved not to accept e-petitions, said council shouldn’t accept electronic petitions because they were sent ‘from all over the world’ by people wanting to comment on issues related to Tweed shire.
He said people should sign paper petitions ‘the old-fashioned way’ and suggested a petition could be signed by numerous people from one computer and that council needed to know if they were genuine or living in the shire.
‘E-petitions can distort council’s process,’ he said.
But Cr Michael Armstrong, who moved the staff recommendation to change the policy, said it was all about the integrity of any petitions, and quipped that local petitions on hard copy had previously been signed by ‘The Pope, Mad Max and Donald Duck’.
‘It’s a nonsense that e-petitions may not be accurate, we should investigate them. Just because one is sent on paper and the other as an email doesn’t mean one is not valid, it’s a joke,’ Cr Armstrong said.
‘We either receive them both or silence them, we should not limit the methods the community uses to communicate with council and e-petitions are just as valid. It’s our right to place weight on them but not silence them because they won’t interact with the way we do things,’ he said.
Cr Carolyn Byrne said council should try to ‘embrace’ the practice as it offered another channel to hear public opinion on local issues.
Cr Byrne said the technology was sometimes ‘manipulated’ for ‘good and evil’, but the validity of petitioners could easily be checked.
In their report, staff said e-petitions would only be accepted if they contained at least five email addresses, did not contain defamatory statements, related to council business and gave council the discretion to check the validity and personal details of each e-petitioner.
The council’s code of meeting practice will be amended to include e-petitions hosted from a third-party website, as well as written forms of petitions.
Staff said their investigation of the use of the process in local government found that the City of Sydney was the only NSW council that currently accepted e-petitions.