Inner West Council blocks meeting openness. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

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By Lanie Tindale

There has been outcry at the decision to shut out public comments on items heard at the Inner West Council meetings from debate on those same items on the agenda. 

The conservative bloc – made up of Labor, Liberal and independent councillor Victor Macri – voted to change the format of the meetings.  

Greens councillor Rochelle Porteous said: “The whole purpose of people coming to speak to an item that is on the agenda is so that they can put their points forward and then they can stay and listen to the debate and bear witness to the debate and the decisions that are made.”

Local resident and council watcher John Lozano said: “I understand the reason behind it, it’s to stop people hanging around but that was already there. At the beginning of each council meeting, they do a call around of the people that have turned up and they say who’s here to speak for what, and the people … have an opportunity to have their opportunity to be heard upfront, and then they can go home after they have spoken and they have heard their own motion be debated so they know the outcome.” 

Mr Lozano, who ran for a Leichhardt seat last election, said the decision was made to “streamline” the council process, because “we have an agenda that’s just way too big to be heard.” 

Cr Porteous said that separating public comments from the decisions made by councillors, means “you’re really enabling councillors to make decisions without proper scrutiny.” 

“There’s quite a lot of bad decisions that have been made by some of my colleagues. And it’s important that they are held up to scrutiny when they’re making their counsel.” 

Cr Porteous used the Balmain Public Square as an example.  

“Instead of bringing that item forward, which has been normal practice in the past, what we saw was the Mayor instructed the people that had come to speak on it … to speak at the beginning of the meeting and then he encouraged them to go home and that they will be contacted later.”  

“That’s not the way we do democracy.” 

Mr Lozano also criticised the time limit given to residents who want to speak. “You’re basically given the impression that you are holding up proceedings,” he said. 

“It is just managed really tightly and it’s the residents who are being impacted.” 

Mr Lozano recommended the council use sub- council groups, using area codes as a guide. 

“Council has already started doing multiple meetings anyway, so it’s not like I’m asking for more meetings, I’m just saying split up your meetings so you can deal with certain areas.”