Red cards to expel unruly shire councillors
By Michael Sinclair-Jones
TOODYAY will have fewer shire councillors under proposed new laws to be introduced into State Parliament early next year.
But they’ll have to behave to avoid being “red carded” and thrown out of the council chamber under the planned reforms.
And fear of party politics at the ballot box has them dead against State Government plans to introduce optional preferential voting at next October’s shire elections.Read more
The State says it wants to give all shire voters the choice to number their preference for as many or few candidates as they wish.
Toodyay councillors say optional preferential voting could encourage party politics and “other alliances” to form.
WA councils currently use first-past-the-post voting which critics say allows candidates with the most votes to win even if they lack a majority of all votes cast.
The State says optional preferential voting is fairer, more representative and offers more choice.
Toodyay councillors backed WA Local Government Minister John Carey’s push for smaller councils but oppose his call for shires the size of Toodyay to elect only five councillors instead of the current nine.
They said it could cause “ongoing disruption” in agricultural areas where seasonal demands could limit participation.
Toodyay will instead seek seven councillors, which the Minister says is acceptable.
The shire has operated most of this year with only eight councillors after Cr Ben Bell’s resignation last January.
A seven-member council would save Toodyay ratepayers $23,000 a year after councillors voted 8-0 last July to give themselves a 17.4 per cent pay rise.
Toodyay also backed the Minister’s plan to give shire presidents new powers to expel councillors from the chamber if they “unreasonably and repeatedly interrupt meetings”.
Similar rules apply in Federal and State Parliament.
Proposed new standing orders would enable shire presidents to issue a formal “first warning”.
A president could “red card” councillors who continued to be disruptive which meant they could still vote but be banned from speaking or moving items of business for the rest of the meeting.
The shire has asked that red cards also bar councillors from seconding motions, which may cause items of business to lapse without debate.
Tougher proposed penalties for breaches of local government law include up to three months’ suspension for repeat offenders.
Suspended councillors would not be paid sitting fees or allowances or allowed to attend council meetings.
They would also be banned from using their official shire title or council email addresses while suspended.
Repeat offenders could be disqualified from office.
The shire warned that “political influence” should not be allowed to interfere with suspensions.
The reforms include a new Chief Inspector of Local Government with the powers of a standing inquiry to investigate shire councils, intervene in administrative affairs and monitor councillor behaviour.
The role is intended to replace an authorised inquiry, such as in Toodyay three years ago, which was seen to be too costly and slow to address “significant issues”.
The reforms also seek to remove the WA Local Government Association from legislation to clarify that it is not a State Government entity.
The reforms are expected to be introduced to the WA Parliament – where the McGowan Government has a record Labor majority in both Houses – early next year.