Mayor calls for an Amendment to the Local Government Act
I write as a matter of urgency seeking an immediate exemption or changes via an amendment to the Local Government Act, to allow all council meetings to lawfully proceed without a quorum of councillors needing to be physically present in the chamber.
As your government has so clearly recognised by being the first Australian state to declare a state of emergency, the COVID-19 pandemic has created challenging and uncertain times. In such unprecedented times it is crucial our community has confidence that government at all levels continue to operate at maximum efficiency.
It is the view of Ballarat City Council that for this to be achieved locally it is essential changes be made to allow Council decision making to proceed in a way that is fully compliant with social distancing recommendations. I am confident other municipalities feel the same way.
We believe this will be best achieved by allowing Councillors to remain part of the decision-making process without being in the chamber. We are requesting changes that will allow our at-risk councillors to continue to carry out their elected duties via video link.
We are also urging changes which will mean we can close our meetings to the public. This is not the death of democracy. Our Council already livestreams meetings and we are working on a solution that will allow residents to make presentations to or ask questions of Councillors. We are exploring all opportunities.
Local government legislation from 1989 did not anticipate a global pandemic, so we need to be flexible in our approach, nor does the newly updated Local Government Act.
This is the most immediate and pressing issue facing our Council in terms of our ability to be able to make robust decisions with all Councillors able to attend. This is particularly pressing for our Councillors who are in the older demographic and those who have younger children.
Looking further into the year, and as the pandemic worsens locally, I am also concerned about our state’s capacity to hold fully democratic elections which provide opportunities for all people to stand for council. We believe social distancing measures and other protocols which may be enforced will severely impact this.
I request your urgent attention and would be happy to discuss this with you at your convenience.
- Ballarat Mayor
Cr Ben Taylor
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