Locals rail against ‘disgraceful’ ticketing system for council meetings

Locals rail against ‘disgraceful’ ticketing system for council meetings

August 7, 2023

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Key points

  • Hobsons Bay Councillor Daria Kellander is moving a motion to ask for a way to include residents in council meetings so they can ask “live and unscripted” questions to councillors.
  • Councils across Victoria have employed security guards at meetings in response to disruptions and threats from fringe conspiracy groups.
  • According to a statewide local government survey community satisfaction with councils has hit record lows.

Some residents and councillors in Melbourne are pushing back against recent security measures to combat disruptions at council meetings, such as a ticketing system for attending, as locals say they are being locked out of public discussions.

A councillor in Melbourne’s south-west is pushing for more transparency as frustration mounts from locals who say they are denied attendance at council meetings.

Brimbank Councillor Maria Kerr (left) and Hobsons Bay Councillor Daria Kellander have moved similar motions.Credit: Luis Ascui

At a meeting on Tuesday, Hobsons Bay councillor Daria Kellander will put forward a motion for a report to be made on how to introduce a regular public meeting or forum where residents can ask live and unscripted questions of the mayor, councillors and council officers.

Kellander said a similar motion had been passed by other councils, such as Brimbank and Stonnington, as local governments across the state tighten security measures after disruptions to meetings by fringe conspiracy groups.

“Residents tell me they are feeling locked out of meetings because of these new rules,” Kellander said. “I want residents to be a part of the conversation and ask questions and to actually speak using their own voices to council.”

The councillor acknowledged the need for safety, but criticised a decision by Hobsons Bay City Council to implement a ticketing system after one of its council meetings was disrupted earlier this year.

The online ticketing system requires residents to book tickets to council meetings in advance. Only about 40 people can attend, and photographic ID is required.

“The ticketing system is overkill,” said Kellander.

Long-time Altona residents Kaylene O’Shea has attended most Hobsons Bay City Council meetings with husband Phillip Paul for the past 30 years. O’Shea said the council’s lack of engagement with the community in recent years was “disgraceful” and new security measures had made it worse.

“Why should a resident who pays rates have to get a ticket to attend council meetings?” she asked.

Paul said that, in the 1990s, he and a residents’ group worked with the council and the Victorian Environment Protection Authority to limit industrial pollution caused by Mobil’s Altona Refinery. Their initiative led to significant regulations of the industry.

Long-term Altona residents Phillip Paul and Kaylene O’Shea are frustrated with the ticketing system required to attend council meetings.Credit: Luis Ascui

“Back then, Hobsons Bay council actually engaged with residents in meetings – now we have to submit questions before council meetings, and if you’re not present, the question doesn’t get read out,” Paul said.

The council requires residents to submit any public questions a day before council meetings. The council also allows for written questions from the public at the end of these meetings.

Hobsons Bay Mayor Tony Briffa didn’t confirm whether she would support the motion for a public forum with residents and said the council was “one of the most transparent” in the state.

“Council conducts various open community consultation sessions where anyone can attend,” Briffa said. “As mayor, I regularly conduct ‘meet the mayor’ sessions in our libraries that are advertised on our website, where anyone can come to meet with me and ask questions.”

Hobsons Bay councillor Daria Kellander (left) is moving a motion at the next council meeting to ask for residents to be able to freely ask questions.Credit: Luis Ascui

Councils across Melbourne have varying rules that allow for public question time. The City of Melbourne allows residents to ask questions on the spot before meetings. Before 2020, the City of Yarra was the same, but it has since asked questions be submitted in email before the meeting.

Moonee Valley council has a public forum for residents to speak every month in a more casual setting than council meetings.

Last week, Brimbank council passed a similar motion to what is being decided by Hobsons Bay this week.

Brimbank councillor Maria Kerr, who put forward the motion, said it was a “democratic right” for residents to address councillors during meetings.

“The hierarchy of councils is currently not allowing for much community consultation,” Kerr said. “Safety is important, but we also need to engage with our residents and can’t cower from it.”

In June, Brimbank council’s meeting was disrupted by a group of people, and a man physically threatened the mayor, pausing the meeting briefly. In a recent survey by The Age, dozens of councils, including Hobsons Bay and Brimbank, confirmed they had hired security guards for council meetings to protect staff from fringe conspiracy groups, including My Place Australia.

Vice-president of Council Watch Dean Hurlston said community satisfaction with councils has hit record lows and pointed to a statewide local government survey that showed a 5 per cent drop in community satisfaction with council engagement since 2014.

“Residents don’t feel heard, and we believe there’s correlation with community dissatisfaction and results of councils nosediving,” said Hurlston.

“The council industry has been shutting communities out for years and the consequence is frustrated people.”

”I think this motion put forward by councillor Daria Kellander will be a test of councillors who say they represent the community. If they don’t vote for this motion, they are weak and the community deserves better.“

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