Griffith City Council defends adoption of media policy slammed as muzzling

CONCERNED: Former Councillor Bill Lancaster says "democracy turned in her grave" during council's last meeting. PHOTO: Anthony Stipo.
CONCERNED: Former Councillor Bill Lancaster says "democracy turned in her grave" during council's last meeting. PHOTO: Anthony Stipo.

It was described by one man as “democracy turning in her grave,” but Griffith City Council has defended its adoption of a media policy preventing its councillors from commenting on council business or policy.

At its ordinary meeting on Tuesday, April 11 Griffith Councillors resolved council adopt an amended ‘statements to the media’ policy, formally stopping them from giving their opinions on council business or policy to media outlets.

Councillors who do so risk having a ‘code of conduct’ brought down on them.

Griffith Mayor John Dal Broi said the policy was part of ensuring council presented a united front, emphasising it had not been drastically altered and still allowed for Councillors who chaired committees to comment on issues resolved.

“What I don’t want to see happen is Councillors out there forcibly speaking out against council’s policy - there are 12 in this council and once we adopt something the majority shall rule,” he said. “I know it is difficult sometimes.”

Former Councillor Bill Lancaster, who retired from council as it wound up its previous term, said the restrictions had long been a point of irritation for him over his two terms in local government.

Mr Lancaster said while he understood while staff could not comment to the media it was the right and the duty of Councillors, as representatives of the community, to express their views - as well as being an essential part of any democracy.

“The Councillors are elected, they all have visions they should be seen to be working towards,” he said.

“There are 12 independents and they are not members of a party, they shouldn’t have to toe the line, they should be able to speak up.”

“[D]on’t expect to hear anything in the next three years from anybody up there contrary to the Mayor’s official line on decisions, projects or initiatives.”

Mr Lancaster said allowing Councillors the option of speaking up held decisions up to scrutiny and allowed for transparency when it came to decision making.

The draft policy was placed on exhibition for public submission from February 28 and attracted a submission from Mr Lancaster, urging council to adopt a policy more in line with Bega Valley Shire Council. Councillors in Bega are free to speak with the media on any issues but are asked to do so with council’s best interests in mind avoiding personal staff or other Councillor criticisms. However, Cr Dal Broi said he was wary of adopting such a policy, which would be more in line with that of Wagga’s council. “It doesn’t make for a good cohesive council,” he said.