Mayor Johnston highlights the need to respect legislative process

Posted on December 13, 2019

"As elected representatives we need to be conscious of our duties, roles, functions and responsibilities under the Local Government Act"

Mayor Wayne Johnston has acknowledged the importance of respecting legislative requirements after public question time was again dominated by the State Government’s Northern Prison project at Tuesday’s Council Meeting.

“Council understands that residents have questions about this project, however, Council’s Ordinary Meetings must be conducted in line with Local Government Regulations. These meetings are not a forum to debate matters. There are many items on the agenda that must be dealt with in accordance with the Local Government Act. This limits time for questions from the public and our December Council Meeting ran for over three hours.” Mayor Johnston said.

As Chairperson, the Mayor is bound by the Local Government (Meeting Procedures) Regulations 2015 which stipulate how meetings are to be conducted. Elected members are also bound by additional legislation when dealing with planning matters.

“The legislation is clear. Questions cannot be debated during question time at Ordinary Council Meetings and questions can only be directed to the Chairperson. Councillors are limited in expressing their views on the State Government’s Northern Prison project as it is expected to be presented to Council sitting as a Planning Authority in the new year.”

Since the State Government’s announcement regarding the Northern Prison site, a number of residents have attended Council Meetings for the first time and many are unaware that these formal meetings run in accordance with legislation and a strict format must be followed.

“Councillors understand that residents can find this frustrating, however, the legislation is not open to interpretation. It specifies our duties, roles, functions and most importantly, our responsibilities. As elected representatives of the Meander Valley community we need to be conscious not to compromise our roles and responsibilities under the Local Government Act,” Mayor Johnston said.

Many of the questions being raised have been asked previously in a number of different ways and through various forums and Public Question Time was extended at the October and November Council Meetings, due to increased numbers of attendees.

“As Councillors, we will be acting as a Planning Authority for the Northern Prison project and that places restrictions on how we are able to become involved. Lobbying for or against the proposal is not something we can do. We are continuing to meet with residents to discuss the project and we will continue to advocate for extensive consultation. The State Government has expanded consultation over the past month and will be conducting a public meeting at the Westbury Town Hall on 16 December at 5.30pm.

This is a very significant project and I reiterate the importance of ongoing discussion that respects the legislative process and all our roles within that process,” Mayor Johnston said.

In a recent survey undertaken by the Local Government Association of Tasmania, sixty percent of of elected members indicated they had experienced online bullying and harassment. Elected members are asked on a daily basis to respond to letters, emails and phone calls which places them under a great deal of pressure as they strive to remain active within the community.

“We encourage all discussion to be conducted in a respectful and cooperative manner,” Mayor Johnston said.