Jason Dowling, the Age
October 1, 2011
MELBOURNE City Council has become more secretive under lord mayor Robert Doyle, according to a group representing businesses in the city, and this week’s council meeting was open to the public for just 12 minutes.
Don Parsons, secretary of the Melbourne Business Council, said increasing numbers of agenda items for council meetings were being classified ”confidential”, which required the public to leave the meeting.
Tuesday night’s council meeting was public for 12 minutes with 80 per cent of agenda items deemed confidential. At the coming Tuesday council committee meeting, 75 per cent of items have been classified confidential.
”It is something we have been observing for months now, that committee and full council just have more and more confidential [agenda items],” Mr Parsons said.
”Is it they can’t stand scrutiny?”
Cr Doyle rejected the suggestion the council was less transparent than past councils.
He said under former mayor John So, the council often produced two reports, one for the public and a confidential one for the council only.
Cr Doyle said the current system was more transparent because most confidential council agenda items were later released publicly. He said state laws for local councils affected the number of confidential items.
”We are no different from any council in this respect,” he said. ”We are not secretive.”
Victoria’s Local Government Act says a council ”may” deem items confidential and lists eight areas that may be considered for confidentiality – it doesn’t compel councils to make the items confidential.
The chairman of Melbourne City Council’s planning committee Ken Ong said greater effort would be made in the future to reduce the number of confidential items.
Councillor Jackie Watts said she would be working to have fewer items classified confidential and encouraging greater transparency at Melbourne City Council.
Yarra City Council mayor Alison Clarke said it was very unusual for their council to have more than 25 per cent of items judged confidential.
”Our September meeting ran from 7pm to 11.45pm, and only about the last 15 minutes was confidential,” she said.
Local Government Minister Jeanette Powell said ”councils should properly explain why a matter will be dealt with in a closed meeting”.