Councillor Max Phillips

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Marrickville Council has voted against a motion to introduce a “Citizen’s Question Time” in council meetings.

The Question Time would involve a dedicated 30 minute slot at each Marrickville Council meeting during which members of the public are able ask questions of councillors and speak about community issues of their choosing.

The motion would change the current practice of Marrickville Council, which allows members of the community to speak to items already on the council agenda for that particular meeting but does not allow them to introduce agenda items of their own. Current practice also does not allow members of the public to ask questions unless they have already made a statement submission.

The motion was moved by Greens Councillor Max Phillips, who has been a strong advocate for council transparency since he was charged last year for leaking confidential council information to the media. The charge was later overturned on appeal.

“The Greens are interested in making council more transparent, more accessible and more accountable,” Cr Phillips said.

“I saw this as a way to put community concerns on the council agenda and get a direct response from elected officials in the public arena.”

Cr Phillips said he was inspired by a similar procedure undertaken by Leichhardt Council in the 1970s.

“Back in the 1970s, Leichhardt Council had more radical councillors who started a program called ‘Open Council’, which tried to engage citizens a lot more. People could even sit up at the councillors’ table during meetings.”

“I was inspired by what had been possible in our neighbouring council of Leichhardt and want to bring some elements of this to Marrickville Council.”

The motion was voted down at a Marrickville Council meeting on September 16.

While Crs Phillips, Ellsmore, Brooks and Leary voted in favour of the motion, Crs Gardiner, Hanna, Macri, Woods, Iskandar and Haylen voted against it, and the motion was lost six votes to four.

Mayor Haylen, who voted against the motion, said a Citizen’s Question Time was unnecessary and would not be useful.

“Marrickville citizens have open access to all councillors,” she said.

“The problem with a Citizen Question Time is that it would add considerably to the duration of council meetings and would be open to political manipulation. I would fully expect that the time would be taken up with Dorothy Dixer type questions.”

“This would not be a good, or useful, political process.”

Cr Phillips disagreed, saying there were too many obstacles to citizens’ engagement with council and that it needed to be made more accessible to the public.

Following on from this motion, Cr Phillips indicated he intended to pursue the idea of live streaming of council meetings. Live streaming has become a controversial issue in recent weeks in light of its rejection by the City of Sydney Council.