By Lawrence Gibbons
How time flies! Four years ago, the City Hub endorsed Clover Moore’s candidacy for Lord Mayor of the City of Sydney. In the wake of the State MP’s last minute announcement that she was standing for Town Hall I wrote: ‘Sure she has a seat in the State Parliament, but at least her time isn’t taken up with breakfast meetings with developers and lunches with the party bosses.’ As the Independent Member for Redfern, Darlinghurst and surrounds, Clover had a long record of fighting for open door governance in the face of two political parties that have been only too happy to ensure that there is no public input, no public debate and absolutely no public scrutiny when laws are handed down from on high. As Clover has repeatedly argued, publicly elected politicians should openly discuss and record the reasons for making laws and spending the public purse…on the record.
In 2004 Clover Moore was resoundingly swept into office on a tsunami following the ALP’s decision to sack two democratically elected city Councils in order to amalgamate the CBD with the former South Sydney Council. Her popular vote was so substantial that a group of Independent Councillors who had no public profile at the time were also swept into office on the might of her polling. What no one could have anticipated was that given an outright majority, Clover Moore would conduct secret caucus meetings in advance of Council meetings, where policy positions were debated and consensus was formed in private meetings away from the public gaze. Once in power, Clover Moore used the same closed door governance she had long criticised.
The month Clover was elected to Town Hall this paper called on the newly elected Lord Mayor to enact Sunshine Legislation, similar to laws that exist in the City of San Francisco: ‘Under the terms of the legislation access to Council meetings must be guaranteed (closed door Council meetings are forbidden)’ We should expect nothing less than open and transparent governance from our democratically elected officials.’ In San Francisco, private meetings amongst elected officials to discuss government business are strictly forbidden. The San Francisco Sunshine Legislation proclaims, ‘Government’s duty is to serve the public, reaching its decisions in full view of the public. Elected officials, commissions, boards, councils and other agencies of the City exist to conduct the people’s business. The people do not cede to these entities the right to decide what the people should know about the operations of local government’ The right of the people to know what their government and those acting on behalf of their government are doing is fundamental to democracy, and with very few exceptions, that right supersedes any other policy interest government officials may use to prevent public access to information’ Public officials who attempt to conduct the public’s business in secret should be held accountable for their actions.’
In the wake of the sex for development consent scandal at Wollongong Council (along with scandals at a host of ALP Council in Rockdale, Liverpool and Strathfield) it is hard to defend caucusing and closed-door meetings of any sort. No doubt many self-respecting members of the ALP would probably support the abolition of the party caucus system at a local government level. Politicians should and must discuss the reasons for their decisions openly and transparently. And they’d better have a damned good reason not to.
How time flies! Once again this paper is publicly calling on Clover Moore and indeed on all candidates standing for Council to support and implement Sunshine Legislation, ensuring that local government decisions are reached in the full public gaze. We do not believe that our publicly elected representatives should discuss the reasons for their legislative decisions behind closed doors. Politicians should be willing to tell us what they think and to give us the opportunity to watch them at work’ But not before 5pm! One of the more disappointing policies implemented by the Clover Moore Independent Team was to hold committee meetings during working hours, on the grounds that they were running too late for staff. Rather then hold committee meetings over several evenings, Clover Moore opted to hold meetings when most residents are required to be at work. The doors of local government should be thrown open for public scrutiny, but not when ratepayers are busy trying to pay their rates.
In the interest of openness and transparency, this newspaper will ask every candidate standing for a local inner city Council seat to state their position on outlawing caucuses and on holding public meetings during working hours. The public has the right to know what our politicians think. Every candidate’s answer will be available online at www.alternativemediagroup.com, where you will be free to comment openly. An edited extract of the stated positions will be available in the next edition of the City Hub. Watch this space.