UNDEMOCRATIC, manifestly inadequate, vague, ambiguous and absurdly long [time for lodging notices of motion] are just some of the words by former councillor Hugh Fraser to describe proposed changes to rules under which Mornington Peninsula Shire operates.
Mr Fraser’s detailed critique of parts of the draft Governance Rules is made in one of the submissions now being collated by shire officers.
Councillors will be briefed on the feedback from the public to the proposed changes on 3 August, and the Governance Rules will then be listed for discussion at the council’s 24 August public meeting.
Mr Fraser’s main objections to the proposed changes are centred around the powers of the chief executive officer, including the CEO’s ability to rule on what items are confidential, accept notices of motion and correct “factual errors” raised during meetings.
Mr Fraser resigned as a Nepean ward councillor in March, just four months after being elected for the third successive time (“Fraser bows out after “differences” with CEO” The News 15/3/21).
However, Mr Fraser also aims some of his scathing criticism to a proposal to replace the council prayer, traditionally spoken before a council meeting, with a pledge.
When calling for feedback about the Governance Rules in May, the shire said that “in particular council seeks your input in relation to the prayer”.
Cr Anthony Marsh was supported by a majority of councillors last December in having the wording of the council prayer replaced by a pledge, although it was still listed as a prayer on subsequent council meeting agendas (“God purged from council prayer” The News 14/12/20).
The shire’s in-house lawyer, governance director Amanda Sapolu, advised council that the wording could be changed provided it was still labelled as a prayer.
Mr Fraser, a barrister, disagreed at the time and wants the traditional prayer retained, “not words of a civil pledge masquerading under the heading of prayer”.
“The civil pledge adds nothing to councillors’ statutory and sworn duties and introduces a needless ambiguity,” Mr Fraser said.
“The prayer … with words of prayer, is consistent with over 3000 years of Judeo -Christian tradition that underpins Australian politics, law and morals, is referred to in the Australian Constitution and a prayer it is said at the commencement of daily sittings of federal and state houses of parliament.
“If local government truly considers itself as a third tier of government in Australia, local council deliberations ought consistently to do so and remind councillors of their humanity and humility as democratic representatives of the community.”
When calling for public comment on the proposed changes to its Governance Rules, the shire said it was “committed to working with the community to improve public confidence in the decisions it makes and to ensure decisions reflect the best interests of all sections of our community”.
Mr Fraser said “the only window” for designating information as confidential should be in accord with the Local Government Act.
He said requiring councillors to lodge notices of motion two weeks before a council meeting was “absurdly long” and a requirement for a rescission motion or revocation motion to be signed by two councillors (including one who had previously supported the resolution) was “undemocratically wide”.
“[This] undermines this principle and is an undemocratic process contrary to all principle and the individual responsibility of each councillor.”