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Byron Shire
July 18, 2024

Byron Council needs to hear its critics, says former mayor, NSW MLC

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Former mayor and NSW Greens MLC, Jan Barham, has called upon Byron Shire councillors to make public submissions during their meetings publicly available.

She told the chamber last Thursday morning that ‘the omission of the public access submissions from publication leaves huge gaps in the understanding of Council decisions.

‘Councillors often refer to issues raised in public submissions, but for the interested resident listening, we are left wondering what’s been said, and what information beyond the staff reports and the input of councillors is missing and influenced the outcome.’

She said that Council can vet contributions ‘if there is any belief that the presentation may include comments that cause any concern in relation to the Council publishing those comments.

‘I remind councillors that the courts found in the Ballina Council vs Bill Ringland case that residents have the right to criticise Council without fear of defamation. It may be uncomfortable at times for Council to hear some of the comments made, and yes, sometimes they might be critical of Council.

‘The decision in Ringland on appeal found that a statutory corporation cannot sue in defamation to protect its ‘governing reputation’.

‘Council’s reputation is not at risk by allowing other views to be heard, in fact Council should be appreciative of differing views as insight to review and ensure that it’s delivering good governance, and explaining its position well to residents.

‘In a democracy, community input should be valued. As a resident, I want to hear the comments of not only the elected representatives but also that of residents, who are the ones directly impacted by Council decisions.

‘I request that Council review its current practice of not publishing the audio recordings of public submissions, and make the voices of the community and applicants publicly available, to enhance our democracy and provide the openness and transparency that Council states it supports’.

Ms Barham’s submission was taken on notice by councillors.

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  1. JAN WE ARE LUCKY TO HAVE YOU……you have been a tireless campaigner for open “government’ & free speech , along with transparency within Council. You have never given up , you have incredible integrity & resilience. WE ARE VERY GRATEFUL FOR YOUR ONGOING PERSISTENCE AND LOVE FOR THIS COMMUNITY. You have continually lobbied for residents to be able to hear all of the submissions presented & kept Council on their toes. This is a remarkable validation of your ethics and high moral standing. THANK YOU on behalf of myself & family, we so appreciate your honourable character and noble determination.

  2. I am actually somewhat confused by Jan’s stance here – BSC has public access sessions that are allocated an hour but nearly always run two hours and even up to three. These happen at both our planning and ordinary meetings. Its not behind closed doors, anyone can come and listen to people supporting or opposing agenda items, questioning, getting clarification an any issue,criticising us or staff or just venting. I don’t really know why they arent recorded for public access – though it is streamed live. Maybe is it so people can feel more free to speak their mind – but I can unequivically say it has nothing to do with councillors not wanting to hear our critics – that’s what we do, that is what we are there for – to listen.

  3. thanks Jeanette, I’m not sure what you are confused about as I had hoped it was quite clear. Yes council operates the Public Access sessions and yes if you are to attend you get to hear the community voice. The Covid situation does now stream public access and for that I am appreciative, it provides context. I’m referring to the ‘normal’ practice where audio of the council meeting is made available on the website, but not public access. I’m simply requesting that council adopt a practice of making the audio of Public Access (vetted if need be) available on the website also. I made no mention of councillors, I referred to Council, which is not specifically focussed on the elected representatives. This has come from listening to past audios to try and understand some of the decisions of council and references to public access are sometimes raised but as a listener, often have no idea what issues were raised. Also, listening to people is great, but it also requires Council to sometimes, take note, question and consider that sometimes those who make submissions have deeper, long term knowledge that should be respected. If you don’t know why it doesn’t happen, I appeal to you to question why not, and perhaps propose the change.


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