A packed crowd at a council meeting, like this one in Maclean, will not be seen for a while.Photo Adam Hourigan / The Daily Examiner
A packed crowd at a council meeting, like this one in Maclean, will not be seen for a while.Photo Adam Hourigan / The Daily Examiner

Less time to talk, no time for questions

DEMOCRACY has taken another hit from the coronavirus as council changes the way they do business.

In response to the worsening coronavirus crisis, councillors voted to introduce a series of new measures reducing the length and frequency of council meetings for the next two months.

The new measures, passed at Tuesday’s council meeting, include removing question time from the meetings, teleconferencing workshops, suspending public forums and face-to-face deputations, suspending committee meetings and introducing a two minute time limit on councillors speaking.

Councils have not been exempted under tightening social distancing measures, leading to the temporary arrangements.

Councillors will have to submit their questions and community-members their deputations, in writing, no later than midday the day before a council meeting.

Deputations will also have to be kept to one page.

It was also decided all meetings would be held at the Grafton council chambers as its size made it more appropriate for adhering to social distancing measures.

It is unknown whether the suspension of the Corporate Governance and Works and Environment Planning and Community meetings will have the desired affect on meeting lengths as traditionally the committees were used as opportunities to better understand and debate key issues – sometimes at length.

The teleconferencing of workshops could be a sign of things to come as the State Government moves quickly to allow councils to operate while reducing exposure to COVID-19.

Yesterday the Minister Local Government, Shelley Hancock announced changes to the Local Government Act to allow council meetings to be conducted remotely.

“This means that councillors can now participate in meetings by an audiovisual link instead of attending in person,” she said.

“The amendments take effect immediately and will operate for six months.”

Councils are the latest institution to be affected by the coronavirus after Federal and State parliaments around the country were suspended earlier in the week.

It was also announced this week that local government elections would be postponed for one year, until September 2021.



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