Council law gags free speech
LIKE one of your Toodyay councillors, I have been accused and found in breach of Local Government (Rules of Conduct) Regulations 2007, specifically, item 7(1)b, “making improper use of the office of council member to cause a detriment to the local government or any other person”.
I believe this regulation is often used to silence and intimidate elected members whose ability to question and bring to light maladministration and misconduct should be protected, not be stifled.
Election to public office should bring greater freedom of speech, more right to question things and discuss issues, not less.Read more
Members of Parliament enjoy legal privilege so they can freely raise matters of concern without the threat of legal action.
Compare the law around Rules of Conduct to that governing defamation.
Truth is a defence to a claim of defamation. Not so with 7(1)b “causing a detriment”.
It a very curious piece of legislation.
It effectively runs counter to the fundamental law concerning local government – the WA Local Government Act – which states the councillors’ role is to “represent the interests of electors, ratepayers and residents of the district”.
How can anyone provide proper and effective representation if there is another law which says they cannot “cause a detriment” to someone, no matter what that person may have done?
For instance, if I discover someone is stealing, I cannot tell the residents I represent because that will obviously cause the thief a detriment.
Tell police, some will say, but what if the police won’t act?
This situation is producing outcomes which are counter to the public interest and needs to be changed as part of wider reforms to the way local government is carried out in WA.
Cr Michael Southwell
(Shire of Capel) Gelorup