News

Eurobodalla Shire Council pulls the plug on live streaming

Ian Campbell 12 June 2019
Mayor Liz Innes and Cr Part McGinlay. Photos: Supplied. Design: Ian Campbell

Mayor Liz Innes and Cr Pat McGinlay. Photos: Supplied. Design: Ian Campbell.

The plug has been pulled on the live streaming of public addresses to Eurobodalla Shire Council amid cries of cover-ups, lack of transparency, and a winding back of democracy and free speech.

Defending the move, Mayor Liz Innes says she is hoping the change will allow for a deeper more balanced presentation of Council issues and meeting agenda items.

“My experience is that generally, the members of the public who come and address the public forum are the ones not entirely happy with what’s being put forward,” Cr Innes says.

“And it can be argued that if members of the wider community are only relying on the live stream that they are not getting the whole picture.”

The change in Code of Meeting Practice was approved seven votes to two at yesterday’s Council meeting; Cr Pat McGinlay and Cr Anthony Mayne the only two dissenting voices – apart from the eight community members who addressed Council.

As reported earlier, the change was flagged on March 26 and placed on extended public exhibition until May 15.

In proposing the new Code, General Manager Dr Catherine Dale sought to bring the Eurobodalla in line with advice from the Office of Local Government (OLG). In her report to Councilors, Dr Dale points to the OLG’s directive to promote “more accessible, orderly, effective and efficient meetings and to provide councils with the tools to achieve these outcomes.”

Cancelling the webcast/live stream of the public forum prior to a Council meeting was one way Eurobodalla set out to achieve that.

During the submission period, the draft Code drew submissions from 13 members of the public. According to Cr McGinlay 11 of those argued strongly for the retention of the webcast.

“The move to end live streaming is very disappointing and very dispiriting,” Cr McGinlay says.

“It’s pathetic, point seven of our Community Strategic Plan talks about being an engaged and connected community who works together to achieve goals and what we are doing is making it more difficult for the community to engage and feel connected to Council.”

Mayor Innes disagrees and points to a level of engagement prior to any given decision that includes public meetings, workshops, and a written submissions process; on top of direct communication between the community and councilors via emails, phone calls and meetings.

“The other thing that really weighed heavily on my mind is that over the last 18 months I have seen a deterioration of behaviour from some of the presenters that have come into Council,” Cr Innes says.

“I have seen cases where members of our staff have been defamed with no opportunity to respond at that time, I have seen other members of the community harassed, I have seen cases where inadvertently people have put out confidential information.”

Cr Innes suggests that the risk of legal action following such instances is too great for ratepayers to bear.

Increasing levels of frustration are evident in community addresses according to Cr McGinlay but he says it’s a matter that could be addressed by good meeting facilitation by the Mayor.

“You do get the odd person who does cross the line but this is a real live world we live in, people will do that, we’ve had councilors do that,” Cr McGinlay says.

“What she [the Mayor] is saying is – I can’t manage this as the chair of the meeting so we are going to stop the whole thing.

“I don’t think it’s right to throw out the opportunity for the broader community because of the few exceptions who can abuse or misuse the time.”

While councilors have a code of conduct and behaviour to abide by, the Mayor says the same formal structures and fallbacks can’t be put in place for members of the public when addressing council.

“This subject came up for discussion at the recent country mayors’ meeting I attended in Sydney,” Cr Innes says.

“I have a feeling that other councils will start to experience this exposure [and need to consider the future of their own live streams].”

Eurobodalla Shire Council Chambers at Moruya. Photo: integrateav.com.au

Eurobodalla Shire Council Chambers at Moruya. Photo: integrateav.com.au

While the webcast of the public forum has ended, council meetings, however, will continue to be live streamed. Anyone wanting to speak at Council on an agenda item will now need to provide a written statement 24 hours prior to the meeting. That statement/speech and council’s response will be part of the public record of the meeting.

“Eurobodalla was ahead of the pack on live streaming, we’ve been doing this for four years, now we are going backward,” Cr McGinlay says.

“Seeing the reaction and the passion of people and councilors is important, we are going to miss seeing that, just looking at bare text you can miss that entirely, body language and tone is a huge part of communication.”

A plan to scrap the ‘public access’ session which deals with non-agenda items was voted down.

The next meeting of Eurobodalla Shire Council is June 25.

Bega Valley Shire Council is also reviewing its Code of Meeting Practice, although Bega Valley is not suggesting any change to its live streaming. The comment period ended on April 30, councilors are considering the matter at today’s (June 12) meeting.

What's Your Opinion?

3 Responses to Eurobodalla Shire Council pulls the plug on live streaming

Order
Donald Macdonald 4:42 pm 14 Jun 19

Another Piece of Democracy Chipped away from Eurobodalla Council

Many years ago, I encouraged my daughter to learn debating and the idea was that a good argument, presenting facts and truth would always win out. Recent times have proved me wrong and that telling the truth and using facts to support an argument does not always lead to the right outcome. Fake news is here to stay!

These days we tend to talk about alternative facts as if they are real. We see examples of this with Trump on Twitter. What is interesting is there are many who believe his lies.

Closer to home we had to suffer through a election argued on lies. This was highlighted when Josh Frydenberg was being interviewed on Insiders by Barry Cassidy and was challenged by Cassidy about the lie that Labor would introduce death taxes. Cassidy asked several times but Frydenberg denied it was a lie. Cassidy struggled to deal with the reality that Frydenberg was continuing to perpetrate this blatant lie. So fake truth wins out.

We have seen fake truth closer to home and this happened on the 11th of June at council meeting when seven out of nine councillors voting to cease live streaming Peoples’ Forum.

Prior to this vote council had sought the views of the community on amendments to code of Meeting. These submissions were duly sent to council prior to the meeting where amendments were to be voted on. On the Wednesday prior to the meeting the GM sent out the relevant agenda and it was observed that almost all submissions were dismissed.

My understanding is that thirteen submissions notices were sent to council and on the day of the meeting eight community members including myself lined up to speak to their submissions. These submissions can be viewed on the Council website and it would be wise before passing judgement on these people, to view those submissions.

When it came to debate the amendments both Councillor Innes and Councillor Nathan read out prepared statements which clearly spoke against web streaming. I gathered from that they had both come to the meeting having already made up their minds on which way they were voting.

So here is the question, why would others and I speak to our submissions if we thought we could not sway councillors with our arguments? I would think because we believe in due process and expect councillors to also believe in due process, to weigh our words before they consider how they should vote. How disappointing it is when we have to face the inevitability of being proved wrong.

I had thought the idea of presenting submissions is part of the decision-making process in that submissions would be considered as part of determining which way councillors should vote. Instead, I am left with the reality that the reasons for this part of the process are no longer adhered to and that councillors are not paying attention to what is said by presenters.

I have no wish to discuss what was spoken at meeting because it is available on the council website. I note one point that you need to observe is the lack of involvement amongst most of the councillors. They contributed little or nothing to the conversation.

So, the next day councillor Innes gets on local radio and gives her reasons for the end of web casting emphasising legal reasons as being the prime reason. The second was some presenters speaking in a manner she did not like. To my knowledge there has never been a legal step taken against council, councillors or Forum presenter, that I know of in all the time that Forums have been webcast. Those interested need to go and listen to all that was said and listen for the alternate facts and no detail being given when referring to bad behaviour by presenters. To my mind Councillor Innes finds it easier to criticise all the presenters even when it may be only one misbehaving. Here is the thing, people in the Chamber are normally well behaved but is difficult to restrain yourself when silly or outrageous commentary, such as the one made by Councillor Tait who accused all the presenters of being political, brought comments from the gallery.

Really, this sort of behaviour is not unusual in any council chamber anywhere in Australia. You would expect that councillors, when they say something controversial or down-right stupid, it is difficult for those in the gallery not to pass some comment. So, can I suggest to councillors who have a problem with this behaviour suck it up and behave like grownups. In the meantime, could Councillor Innes stop gilding the lily with her complaints.

One last alternative truth. Councillor Innes makes much comment about behaviour and says there is no way to take action against improper behaviour under code of conduct. Not true. There is in fact very little opportunity for members of the public to seriously misbehave but when they do there is action taken to constrain and, in some cases, expel presenters from future Forums.

To suggest council, have no way to punish or control unruly presenters is completely untrue. Refer to the Code of Meeting Practice and you will find plenty of evidence to support the argument that council have fairly wide-ranging rules they can apply to control or even muzzle speakers if they so wish.

In any case, Councillor Innes could well look to the behaviour of councillors and others who at times have levelled unsupported accusations against presenters and people associated with presenters. That might explain the attitude of some people in the gallery who have been on the receiving end of this poor behaviour. And lastly, recently, one councillor thought it was okay to abuse a nurse manning a prepoll booth at Moruya. What did she do wrong? Well, that’s where it becomes interesting. She was simply suggesting voting for the party who would increase nurses’ numbers in hospitals.

So please tell me how I should explain to my now very grown up daughter that what I told her years ago is no longer true.

And what is that, you might ask?

That such things as alternative truths, cherry-picking the truth and bullying are now the norms amongst those who wield the power.

Donald Macdonald

Donald Macdonald 11:50 am 14 Jun 19

As one of the presenters at the Forum I was not surprised with the outcome. It was clear, reading their body language that most councillors were disengaged and disinterested. In fact, I would go as far as to say most councillors had made their minds up. None of the councillors spoke against any of the submissions and when it came to voting on the amendment for removing the webcasting from forum Councillor Innes wrote from a prepared statement why webcasting should not proceed. By reading out that statement she showed her utter contempt for the submissions and due process in that it was obvious she had come to that meeting with her mind made up.

It makes a joke of the process and how it is all about going through the motions to make it all look okay.

Shame on you Councillor Innes for corrupting due process to achieve your own ends and those of your muppet councillors who follow in your footsteps.

John Richardson 1:26 am 13 Jun 19

While I don't listen to all of the broadcasts of Eurobodalla Shire Council Meetings, most of those that I have listened to seemed very civil in their conduct. I am aware of only one occasion where a submission allegedly got out of hand & council took steps to excise the offending remarks form the transcript ... I found it interesting at the time that the biggest fuss that this episode caused was not around the nature of the comments but rather that the transcript had been doctored without acknowledgement.

I agree with Cr McGinlay assessment that the Mayor has acknowledged her inability to chair meetings & don't accept that the community should be denied the right to hear the legitimate democratic expression of views from ordinary citizens, just because she can't cope.

What's the old expression? "If you can't handle the heat, get the hell out of the kitchen!!"

As for the gang that can't shoot straight in Zingel Place is concerned, they weren't worried about live-streaming, as I suspect they are beyond feeling embarrassed about their performance. No, their biggest concern was to agree what time to hold the new separate forum for residents & ratepayers to express their views, seemingly totally oblivious to the fact that holding it at 12 Noon was no different to holding it at the commencement of the formal council meeting. The only real difference between the two being that councillors will not be obliged to attend the former, while being obligated to attend the latter.

Meanwhile, the wheels continue to fall-off the general manager's witch hunt as the meter continues to tick at the ratepayers' expense.

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