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.