Rainbow lorikeet feasting on red gum flowers.

This was the Inner West Council Meeting held at Ashfield Chambers. I did not attend, but instead watched the live-streaming from the comfort of my lounge room.   The meeting lasted 4 hours 32 minutes.

I usually just write what was said, but as this was about democracy & my ability to participate, I decided to write a few words. Anything in [ ] are my words.  All mistakes are mine.

The councillors & Wards are as follows – (in alphabetical order) –

Ashfield: Tom Kiat (Greens), Mark Drury (Labor), Julie Passas (Liberal).

Balmain: Rochelle Porteous (Greens), John Stamolis (Independent), Darcy Byrne (Labor).

Leichhardt: Marghanita Da Cruz (Greens), Lucille McKenna (Labor), Vittoria Raciti (Liberal).

Marrickville: Colin Hesse (Greens), Victor Macri (Independent), Sam Iskandar (Labor).

Stanmore: Louise Steer (Greens), Pauline Lockie (Independent), Anna York (Labor).


Mayor Byrne – He explained to the gallery that the meeting was being streamed live to the internet & as such they should behave in a way that does not cause them potential legal difficulties.  He said, “ …for the up to a dozen people in the inner west who are boring enough to want to watch this on the internet…….. if you speak tonight, that will be broadcast to that enormous audience….”  So, I googled & saw that –

  • The meeting of the 31st October 2017 had 364 views.
  • The meeting of the 12th October has had 423 views.
  • The meeting of the 24th October has had 290 views.

This is a far cry from “the up to a dozen people in the inner west who are boring enough to want to watch this on the internet…”   The Mayor’s choice of language is downgrading the utility of this service, which is relatively new & this is a shame.  I find it sad that residents who are engaged in the goings on of council are described as “boring” by the leader of persons who are specifically engaged in open government & deliberative democracy.

7.35pm – Item 2: Draft Code of Meeting Practice –

From the council paper – “The purpose of this report is to adopt a new Code of Meeting Practice for the Inner West Council. The draft Code was publicly exhibited in June 2017 and this report proposes further amendments to the Code after a briefing on the Code was held with the Councillors on 7 November.”

Speaker 1 – I want to support publishing the Code of Meeting Practice [from now onwards – CoMP] on the website.  I disagree with the council officer’s view that the public forum should be limited to no more than 60-minutes at the commencement of the meeting & that the public register to speak.  ….it is much better for the members of the community be able to speak when the thing comes up.  I’ve had things to say at times, have thought of things to say while the councilors are speaking & wanted to make comment.  If I had to speak at the beginning, then there is no time to listen to what the councilors are saying.  You also say that all speakers must register by 2pm.  I disagree with this because people may think about things they want to say that they think about when the meeting is going on.  I do notice that the Mayor can allow someone to speak even if they haven’t registered.  I want to support that.  How can I as a member of the community who wants to say something about something I’ve read in the paper.  I’ve read about these two houses up for demolition.  Why isn’t there an option for members of the community to bring up something & say something.  If it wasn’t here as a notice of motion I wouldn’t be able to say anything about it, except write a letter to the local paper.  What is the option for people in open government to be able to say things?  I write to the General Manager, which it says I should do & he sends it to someone, but it’s not about that.  It’s about how can the general public make a comment about something they disagree with?  There is no way to do this in this system.

Mayor Byrne called the next speaker from the gallery.  He identified him as a member of the Greens.

Clr Porteous – Point of order.  The Mayor is of a habit of pointing out the political party of people in the gallery.  It’s inappropriate.  If you are going to do it be consistent & point out the Labor party members, the Liberal party members, any other party members that there are, but you pointedly only ever say Greens members.

Mayor Byrne – Is this a point of order or a speech?  Let me know when the point of order will conclude.  Would you like me to rule on the point of order?   It has been the case that at each single meeting since the election there has been a cotterie of Greens members in attendance & that has contributed to the business not being dealt with, but I will withdraw that & I won’t seek to identify them any longer.  Given that _____ was the convener of the NSW Greens, everyone knows that already.

[I don’t know the speaker or what roles he has performed.  With respect to the Mayor, disclosing personal information about speakers who have an equal right to speak as any other speaker who is not a member of any political party is a gross violation of their privacy. It may be true that some people knew that particular speaker’s political affiliations, but the whole world did not.  Once something is on the internet it is accessible to the whole world.  Therefore, we should care about privacy.]

Speaker 2 – This is my first meeting of the IWC in its democratic form.  I want to address the section in the CoMP that wants to confine residents to an hour at the beginning of every meeting.  It seems to me there can be no doubt that this is a constriction, a restriction & should be rejected by the councillors of the Inner West Council.   It’s strikes me as rather ironic that the …I know that the hatching of this CoMP was began under the Administrator.  I note that the Administrator administered council meetings according to the CoMP of Leichhardt Council, which this recommendation wants to get rid of.  It would be truly ironic if the undemocratically appointed Administrator adopted & implemented a CoMP that was more democratic, more in favour of public participation than the one adopted tonight.  [He went on to say that residents often help with expertise to help the councilors & their decision-making.]

Speaker 3 – I want to address in particular, the actual options for the public input.  If the public is limited to speaking an hour before these issues are discussed, there is no adequate focus to get the message across clearly.  The process here is a precious one & as democratic people we should support it & that is what I am arguing for.  I want to public to have access to all debates.  That is a truly democratic process.

Clr Drury – I seek an amendment to delete the words in Clause 1, to adopt the CoMP with the following amendments –

  • delete the reference to the public forum,
  • rename public forum to addressing council,
  • & in 2.8 clause 2, basically saying people can come up to give submissions prior to the item as it comes up in the order of council, but we look at a maximum of 3 speakers for & against the item.
  • Further, delete the note of clause 6.1.5 that we publish yadda yadda yadda.

Council is about making good decisions in the best interests of our community.  I am concerned that what has started with this council is a process where too many decisions don’t get made & matters don’t get progressed in an orderly fashion.  I believe this code if we adopted it would allow us to get about the business of council in a far more effective fashion.  I’ve got to say I get lots of submissions from lots of residents on lots of items in the agenda prior to the meeting.  Lots of people email me, lots of people ring me & say, I suggest you amend this, you don’t do this, you do that & I actually work with those residents who want to improve council decisions prior to the meeting.  We have a recommendation that I think encapsulates the issues concerned.  We should not have people coming up here expressly to amend something if they have already determined that & they could have spoken to a councillor & try to convince them before.

[This point is interesting in that many of us, including myself, have written to a councillor & not received a reply.  During the last council, I spoke to a councillor in the supermarket.  The councilor had something like 2,500 emails for just that week. How can councillors be expected to truly negotiate with residents when they are responsible for so many people in each ward? I can’t see why residents cannot just go to the council meeting & speak for 3-minutes to all the councillors, instead of having to approach one before the meeting & then essentially shut up.  While it can be confronting for some to speak at a council meeting, it can also be confronting trying to present your case outside the council meeting.  This is precisely why there is such a low participation in the community.  Many people in our community are afraid of the authority of both the council & the councillors.]

Back to Clr Drury – I am also minded that what democracy means is very different for different people.  I think that to hang on to one CoMP of one of the councils & claim that that is the ants-pants of democracy is perhaps a little limited in scope.  All around the world there are a myriad ways of looking at democracy.  There are arguments for & against.  I think perhaps we need to be a little more open minded & look at other ways.  My primary interest in moving this amendment is so we can get through making good decisions in the best interests of our community.

Clr Macri seconded Clr Drury’s amendment.

Clr Passas – Supporting the amendment.  Once, twice at the most, out of every single decision made by councilors, a speaker swayed the councillor’s vote.  I would say everyone votes in a block.  Their mind is made up.  We might take on board…. a few little amendments might be made, but.  [Interjection from the gallery.]

[How sad is that.  I suspected this, but it still smarted to hear it in actual words.  Essentially Clr Passas is saying from her considerable experience as a councillor, that the councillors’ minds are made up & no matter what you do or say, you won’t sway them or change their decision.]

Back to Clr Passas – When residents have an issue that they are really concerned about they do contact the councillor & let the councillor know.  The councillor will come up, has taken that information on board & will move amendments, discuss with his colleagues or the block & see what they can do about it.  We have issues here & people come up for purely political reasons & most of the people who come up to address council turn out to be candidates at the next election.  And they are up here at every meeting going on about an issue & that’s their platform.  We aren’t the electoral commission.  We are here making decisions for people & if we have not read our business papers & followed up & received more information that we need for our decision, I don’t think that one person coming up & addressing council saying how bad the state or federal government is or whatever, it’s going to sway the councilors to change their mind.

[Again, residents who are engaged & choose to attend council meetings are seen as preparing to run for the next council election.  We haven’t even done 6-months in this new council & this is the attitude toward the community in the gallery.  This is a cynical & disparaging view of community participation.  I attend council meetings because I am interested in what is happening.   I find the meetings interesting.  My husband does as well.  I am sure that most of us who have attended do so because of the issues being debated.  That which affects our future is of interest to us. Participants in deliberative democracy are not just those who run for office.]

Clr Porteous – Moved a foreshadowed motion – that the IWC defer the decision to change the CoMP until the new model CoMP is released by the Office of Local Government & until that time, continue to use the Leichhardt CoMP & from February 2018 there be two council meetings a month.  There could not be a bigger affront to democracy than this CoMP.  It’s a real watering down of democracy & I guess it is one of the desired outcomes of the amalgamation to ensure we have as little input as possible into the democratic process of council from the public because it is certainly achieving that.  You could have 20 people registering to speak on the traffic committee, & then we have none to speak on every other item that is on the agenda.  There are a lot of other issues that have not been addressed by Clr Drury’s amendment, which is why I think we should not be adopting this CoMP this evening.  The way motions & questions on notice are dealt with & I ask that Councilors look at page 57 & you will note the extraordinary power that is given to the General Manager that the council staff will not answer questions on notice.  This is not acceptable that the General Manager gets to decide that a question gets answered.  If you look at page 73, the General Manager can kick out motions & this is unacceptable as well.  We are the elected decision-making body of this council.  The motion should be on the papers & should be debated by council.  You are actually allowing the General Manager to remove your motions.   We already know that the Office of Local Government are going to release the new CoMP in the next 2-3 months.  We have a new council.  Rather than us change the CoMP, then change the CoMP again, we can change it once when we have the model of the new CoMP.  We do it properly & get it right because it is confusing to the public.  It’s more difficult for council to function properly & it’s not good process.  It’s not good governance to continually change to CoMP.

Clr Stamolis – I have six amendments.  Remove the words – shall stand when speaking.  Remove any reference for a public forum.  Any debate in council will lack coherence if we do that.  You see 15 councillors here tonight.  By the third public forum you will see 3 or 4.  Councillors won’t be turning up for them.  If the public forum ends up after 16 minutes, what do we do.  Wait around?  We allow councilors to speak for 5-minutes. I think that should be 3-minutes.  I am completely against two councillors speaking for & two against.  We will debate if we do that, we could lose fantastic amendments & motions if we close off the debate.  If we do decide to proceed with such an inflexible & draconian measure, it should be done only on the basis of a vote & a minimum of two-thirds of councilors to stop any party gagging going on.  In a notice of motion that requires funds that we have to identify the source of funds I completely disagree with that.  Councillors are entitled to put forward motions that will get assessed by our staff.

Clr McKenna –  The CoMP is more than two terms old.  It wasn’t adopted after 2012.  At the local government meeting that I attended the Officer made it very clear that, yes, they are working on a new CoMP, but it was a lower priority.  Knowing how poor they are getting things out in time, I doubt we will see a code this time next year.  We need a new CoMP.  Whether we adopt Clr Drury’s or another, we have to have a new code.

Clr Hesse – We are a council of 185,000 people & growing.  We need a process where we actually maximize the input from residents.  Unlike Clr Passas I have been informed many times in my previous time in Marrickville Council from the gallery about things I hadn’t thought of.  It is a really important conversation to have with residents.  The proposal is deeply, deeply flawed.  Councillors standing could cause grandstanding.  We have a worry with gag clauses.  This stops the public’s right to drill down into issues & to hear the representatives speak.  This draft CoMP is so flawed. Let’s adopt the old Leichhardt one until there is another one foisted on us by the Office of Local Government.

Clr Iskandar – Gave his 17-year history at Marrickville Council.  We had a CoMP that worked very, very well. I would like to adopt that.  Marrickville’s code gives a lot of democracy, a lot of opportunity for the gallery. They were very involved in choosing 3 for & 3 against.  We learnt a lot from them.  [He preferred the public spoke at the beginning of the meeting.]

Clr Macri – This code is probably a hybrid between Ashfield & Marrickville’s CoMP.  It’s nearly 8.30pm. We have to be succinct with the speakers.  [This item started at 7.35pm.  There were 3 speakers who took up 11-minutes of the meeting time.  I don’t think the community speakers are to blame for the slow pace of this meeting.]

Back to Clr Macri – I don’t want to hear motions from councilors about saving blue whales in Antarctica.  I don’t have an issue with the General Manager using common sense.  We need an effective CoMP that allows people to get in, hear their item, speak to & witness their item & then leave.  Come in the first hour, have their say & then disappear.     He supported Clr Drury’s amendment.

Clr Passas – We used to have a prayer before the meeting started.  We did amend it to a period of quiet contemplation & I wondered if we could reintroduce that.  I wanted to sprinkle holy water in the room, but no-one would let me.    Clr Drury accepted this into his amendment.  The public forum is not included in the public forum.

Mayor Byrne – This is very similar to the City of Sydney’s Code.  I don’t consider them to be an undemocratic institution.  I do think though the usefulness of the CoMP is how we make use of it in practice.  There does need to be an improvement in the way we do our business.  [He offered all 15 councillors speaking to an item & residents needing to wait until 11pm for this item to come up as examples.]

The vote on Clr Stamilos’s amendments –

  • “Shall stand when speaking.” Mayor Byrne voted against, but he did not say the names of councillors who voted & these are not visible on the video.
  • Public forum ruled by the Mayor Byrne as redundant & out of order because the primary motion adopts that.
  • “The mover of the motion should speak for 3 minutes, not 5.” Defeated. Mayor Byrne voted against.  Staff – Legislation requires that councillor may speak for 5-minutes.
  • “Councillors are required to reveal the source of their funding.”   Mayor Byrne voted against.
  • Remove “Council should not be limited – to two speakers for & against.” Mayor Byrne ruled out of order.  Amendments defeated.

The vote for the primary motion from Clr Drury – carried.  Mayor Byrne voted yes.

[I think Mayor Byrne should say the names of the councillors who voted for & against an item for the benefit of those residents who watch on the internet.  This is more transparent & is about open government.  This issue is easily fixed.   Or we could make a guess, correctly or otherwise, that the Labor & Liberal councillors, plus Clr Macri voted in the same way as did Mayor Byrne.]

Here ends the Report for this month.  Apologies for the delay.

Some people see this as a mess, but to me it is beautiful.