The transparency of City of Ballarat has been pushed into the spotlight, after a number of recent decisions garnered public anger.
Councillors voted 5-4 on Wednesday night to have all overseas travel for councillors except professional development signed off solely by the CEO, without it needing to be voted on at a council meeting.
The current guidelines from Local Government Victoria, which have been in place since 2008, state “all overseas travel should be by resolution of full council.”
At the same meeting, a notice of motion calling for livestreaming of council meetings was voted down, despite 23 out of 76 Victorian municipalities already broadcasting open meetings.
The city is also ranks badly when it comes to the amount of decisions made behind closed doors.
The Know Your council website reports 15 per cent of council votes were taken “in-camera” in 2016/17, with the public and media unable to be in the room.
The average for similar councils was 9.28 per cent.
Deputy mayor Daniel Moloney said he’d like to see the sharing of more de-identified council data, as well as more contract decisions made in the open, by redacting sensitive or identifying information in the contracts.
“I’d like to see us take an approach across the board where we’re making data more available for people to access,” he said.
Cr Moloney said the changes to the councillor expenses policy on overseas travel was a “missed opportunity”, as they will no longer debate the importance of those trips publicly.
Councillor Belinda Coates, who tabled the notice of motion on livestreaming, said people were “pretty astonished” by its failure.
“That is a step backwards, when there are areas that we’re making gains in with transparency,” she said. “People are understandably asking why when in this kind of environment, it’s more important than ever for people to feel open and build trust in government.”
Other Victorian councils are already reaping the rewards of transparency.
City of Greater Bendigo broadcasts meetings live on a community radio station, and also has a livestream of every public meeting via the Bendigo Advertiser.
The city’s CEO Craig Niemann said implementing the live broadcast more than four years ago had a “pretty positive outcome”.
“People are aware of outcomes and council decisions straight away, and that’s the common way of doing business; you need to be able to and be ready to communicate straight away,” he said.
Bendigo mayor Margaret O'Rourke agrees.
Having improved engagement, access and transparency, she said City of Greater Bendigo is now investigating providing an even higher quality livestream in-house.
“It’s a very good process to have transparency and openness with the public,” she said.
“We think its just another opportunity for people to be involved and engaged with council.”
Councillor Grant Tillett defended the change to the travel policy, as he felt overseas travel being approved by council was an “anomaly” of the city’s processes.
“The checks and balances that go on in our council are very strong, there is no council more transparent with its operations broadly speaking than Ballarat,” he said.
“If the CEO makes the decision that its justifiable, it’s justifiable ... She’s not going to do it lightly.”
Cr Tillett said the livestream motion was voted down because it tried to “curtail what is the natural process”, by not ordering a council officer report.
City of Ballarat’s CEO Justine Linley and mayor Samantha McIntosh were unavailable for comment.