City News

Labor councillors accused of ‘gagging discussion’ as Inner West Council meeting schedule changed

Inner West Council held its first meeting of the new year last week. Photo: Inner West Council.

By SEJA AL ZAIDI

Ordinary meetings in the new year of Inner West Council will be halved to one per month after support from the Labor majority amended the meeting schedule for 2022.

It comes after amendments were made to the meeting schedule last year, with the change to the one meeting per month model supported in January 2021 being scrapped months after its introduction following difficulty dealing with all the items on each agenda.

New Labor councillor Philippa Scott tabled the motion to change the 2022 ordinary meeting schedule, who said that a one meeting per month model would allow the Inner West’s “untapped reservoir of community expertise” to be accessed. Cr Mark Drury seconded the motion, adding that “we want to make well-reasoned and well-considered decisions with good community input”.

All five Greens councillors and two Independents voted against the motion, including Independent Pauline Lockie, who supported halving council meetings last year, but were defeated by the eight-seat Labor caucus, who now have a majority in the council chamber following last year’s elections.

The following day, Greens councillor Kobi Shetty accused Labor councillors of “gagging discussion between councillors on the floor of council and reducing the public’s chance to share their views”, adding that “this puts us in real danger that decisions aren’t going to be made by the whole of council”.

Councillor concerns

Fellow Greens councillor Dylan Griffiths said that it was “disappointing that Labor is using its majority to make council slower, more secretive and less accountable”.

“There will be four to five hours every month for councillors to intervene on current affairs, and four hours a month for councillors to bring forward proposals on behalf of their communities,” Cr Griffiths said. 

In response to comments from Greens councillors, Cr Scott said that “it’s important that councillors spend more time being briefed on the details, and working directly in the community, and less time in the council chamber having petty political arguments”.

“I have no doubt that Inner West residents will agree that staff really need to spend more time working on residents’ problems and less time preparing meetings.

“The offer to work collaboratively with the Greens and two other councillors stands. We do expect them to be organised, however, and speak directly to us.”

Independent councillor John Stamolis opposed the motion, saying that the one meeting per month schedule “completely failed” in the previous term of council, and expressed concern that council would look “very lazy already”.

“You’d think that ten new Councillors would want as many meetings as possible so that they can learn the ropes of council. You’d think they would be demanding to meet once a fortnight.

“It seems like they just want to take their two-and-a-half thousand dollars a month and not show up to the meetings.” 

Of the ten new councillors on council this term, six voted in favour of the motion.

When asked about the new schedule’s effect on the pace and accountability of council, Cr Scott said that, in the last meeting, the whole agenda was finished before 11:00 pm, something that the “previous term of council was rarely able to achieve”.

Cr Scott also said that Inner West Labor consulted with many of the Greens in advance of the meeting so that speakers on each motion could be organised, and that 21 of the 25 items were passed unanimously or only with the absence or opposition of Cr Stamolis.

The Local Government Act 1993 requires Council to meet a minimum of 10 times a year, each time in a different month. 

Moving forward, council has amended the schedule for 2022 to reflect the practice of one ordinary meeting on the second Tuesday of every month, with a recess in January and July. 

Part of the motion requests that staff reports back with amendments to the current Code of Meeting Practice that would enhance the effectiveness and efficacy of the meetings to respond to residents’ concerns.

A report on this recommendation will be tabled at the April ordinary meeting.

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