Secrets out: local law amendments a hot topic
The battles at City Hall and George Street over amendments to the Local Government Act intensified this morning after LNP Minister David Crisafulli took to the airwaves to reject claims made by Labor councillor Milton Dick.
Speaking to ABC 612 Brisbane on Wednesday, Cr Dick raised concerns about the latest report from the committee handling the inquiry tabled this week, namely that the proposed laws would see council information sealed in secrecy for decades.
if they wish to go trawling through information to make some political mileage, good on them, but [they can] do that on their own time
But Mr Crisafulli has disputed Cr Dick's reading of the document, saying there is nothing in it to suggest councillors would be denied information for matters outside their wards, or that minutes from a council's civic cabinet would be “locked away” for up to 20 or 30 years before being released.
“I know the changes to this act very, very well and there is nothing of the sort [in the bill],” Mr Crisafulli told ABC 612 Brisbane on Thursday, adding there was nothing before Parliament in either the Right to Information Act or changes to the Public Records Act that would see such an outcome.
“The only change that will be made is that if a councillor wants to get information outside their ward, they will have access, but they won't be able to sit down with a staff member and sit down for days on end as part of some sort of fishing expedition,” he said.
“The councillor - if they wish to go trawling through information to make some political mileage, good on them, but [they can] do that on their own time.”
The amendments in the proposed legislation at the centre of the debate relate to section 2.7, and to the organisation of information flows within councils, particularly the proposal that “councillors may not ask the CEO to provide information that relates to any ward/division other than the ward or division the councillor represents”.
The committee report notes strong opposition to this change, including from the Local Government Association of Queensland and the Queensland Ombudsman.
But in response, the committee said “the bill does not impose restrictions on councillors viewing council records, only on requesting them from a council employee”.
Further, the committee recommended the proposed clauses “relating to limitations of a councillors' ability to request information for divisions other than their own, be omitted.”
But Cr Dick said the only way councillors at Brisbane City Council could view files was by first asking a council employee for the information.
He said that would mean he would not be able to request information about major projects – such as the $1.5 billion Legacy Way toll tunnel, council's biggest infrastructure project - because it was in the ward of Toowong and he represented the Richlands.
“I don't think that's in the interests of good government, and we should at least be making that information available,” he said.
However Brisbane's deputy mayor Adrian Schrinner, who followed Mr Crisafulli on radio, said under Brisbane City Council's current rules Cr Dick was able to access files relating to projects such as Legacy Way or the city's controversial CityCycle scheme. “Any councillor can call on any file, and they have access to that now, they've had access to that in the past,” Cr Schrinner said.
“The difference is council officers – who are non-political - can't be used as research officers.”
But Cr Schrinner said the party in power could call on officers to provide information and advice to “help us make decisions”.
Cr Schrinner also noted that under previous Labor council administrations, access to information was greatly restricted, and that the opposition's access to information at council was more readily available than at other levels of government.
Cr Dick said on Thursday morning he was standing by his claims against the bill, again condemning the LNP for the proposed changes he said were a “backward step”.
“These changes to the City of Brisbane Act may make it harder for the LNP administration to be held to account,” he said.
“With massive majorities at a state and council level, more than ever the LNP need to be held to account.”
In his speech to Parliament introducing the bill, Mr Crisafulli, a former Townsville councillor, stressed that the intention of the legislation was to return power to councils.
“For far too long, local governments have been frustrated, as I have been, by the pointless and unnecessary restriction, red tape and prescription in the local government legislation which derived from a 'Brisbane knows best' mentality,” he said.
The bill amends the following acts:
• City of Brisbane Act 2010
• Judicial Review Act 1991
• Libraries Act 1988
• Local Government Act 2009
• Local Government Electoral Act 2011
• Parliament of Queensland Act 2001
• Public Interest Disclosure Act 2010
• Public Sector Ethics Act 1994
• Public Service Act 2008
• Right to Information Act 2009
• Transport Infrastructure Act 1994
More information, including a full list of submissions made to the inquiry, is available via the Queensland Parliament website.