A new section of the council's governance rules and transparency policy caused some confusion at Wednesday night's City of Ballarat meeting, with concerns restrictions over the use of council-owned property for electioneering purposes might see election day booths banned.
The new governance rules and public transparency policy were adopted unanimously at the meeting, with Cr Grant Tillett speaking in favour of them, saying conversations with council officials reassured him of the necessity and prudence of their ratification.
However Cr Des Hudson asked several questions regarding section 11.1.1b of the policy, which states:
Council will have in place an election period policy that: Prohibits the use of Council resources for any election campaign purposes, including Federal, State or Council elections.
Former mayor of Ballarat John Barnes had entered a submission during the community engagement sessions leading to the proposal of the new policy, querying whether the application of that section was necessary 'as using these resources does not advantage candidates'.
Council's officer responded in the draft, saying:
'Council Facilities / Halls for Hire will be able to be hired by Federal and State political members and officers, and local candidates (including Councillors) at the normal corporate hire rate determined by the facility, in the lead up to the election, but not during an election period. This is to avoid the perception that Council facilities are being used to promote any candidacy.'
Cr Hudson sought to clarify the proposed guidelines, asking if the implications would end council properties being used at elections.
"Does that mean they will need to find alternate locations?" Cr Hudson asked
"In relation to the Sebastopol RSL hall, and I'm just plucking one for instance... when the VEC or the AEC then hire that venue, it generates income to the community groups that run that hall, will that no longer be an opportunity?"
"What we are trying to do is demonstrate a clear separation between council-controlled and owned facilities," council's public interest disclosure coordinator Cameron Montgomery told Cr Hudson.
"If it is a facility that is managed and operated arm's length, that is a scenario where they could be hired for a commercial agreement as a separation through that process. The intent is for ones that are controlled and owned and operated by council aren't used for those electioneering purposes. It's around managing the perception for the community."
The City of Ballarat has since clarified council facilities may be used for actual election processes.
'So people can still vote at Council buildings such as kindergartens, community halls, town halls etc on a State or Federal election day,' a council spokesperson reiterated in a statement.
However political candidates at any level cannot hire council facilities or halls during an election (caretaker) period, but may in the lead-up period.
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