Councillors must not name each other during meetings, according to Cr David Gibb at the 22 August meeting. Rising on a point of order while Cr Hugh Fraser was speaking – after Cr Fraser had uttered the seemingly innocent words “Councillor Gibb” – Cr Gibb stated that the newly approved Councillor Code of Conduct banned the naming of councillors.
Cr Fraser, speaking about his role on the shire’s Audit Committee, said the fact that Cr Gibb had inserted a “delegates” clause into the code of conduct, which required Cr Fraser to “exercise my deliberative vote on behalf of council representing the views of council”, had effectively hamstrung him.
At which point Cr Gibb raised his point of order. “I think councillors need to be reminded [of] clause 6.2 ̔Behaviours – debating issues, not personalising debate.’ It’s clear … conflict … is a clear transgression of the Councillors (sic) Code of Conduct signed on the 6th of June 2016.” Then, he added ominously in what appeared to be a remark directed at Cr Fraser: “One strike.”
Queried on the precise nature of the point of order, Cr Gibb responded: “I said, ̔Naming councillors’, and I was just named then.”
Asked to withdraw, Cr Fraser complied unequivocally, in the process naming Cr Gibb again but without prompting a further point of order, then continued his argument, which we can return to in a moment.
But Bandicoot was left perplexed, wondering how debate can proceed if councillors must not name each other. How, for example, is the meeting chair to call those who wish to speak. Does he or she point to the appropriate councillor with a long pole, and nod wave, wink or give the thumbs-up?
Perhaps a better way would be to call councillors according to their geographical location – “Yes, you, third from the left.” Or possibly assign a number to each councillor so numbers, not names, are used. But this might cause points of order along the lines of “Cr 3,” (the chair) “my number was just, er, named, which is contrary to clause 6.2 … no, I was not referring to you, Crs 6 and 2.”
And divisions will become a nightmare for innumerate councillors, especially those with a penchant for donkey voting.
But Bandicoot digresses. Cr Fraser was putting a very serious point. He argued that the Gibb delegate’s clause required him to table at the Audit Committee only material approved by council (which in effect, Bandicoot points out, means approved by the prevailing council majority).
“I do not accept this,” Cr Fraser said. “All this directly impacts on the independence of the Audit Committee and good governance of the shire.
“The Audit Committee met last Wednesday and in attendance were two councillors who are not members of the Audit Committee. Accordingly I am unable to support…”
At this point murmurs of protest arose among other councillors. Cr Celi broke through with “Point of order…”
Cr Fraser pressed on: “…this new expenses policy…”
Cr Celi: “Time is up…”
Cr Fraser: “… just to paper over what remains to be explained by management as to how this has occurred…”
Clearly, Cr Celi was saved by the bell, if it was Cr Fraser’s intention to name the two non-committee councillors who attended the Audit Committee meeting. Bandicoot has no idea why the pair had nothing better to do than attend the meeting.
Auditors may be fine church-going fete-organising members of the community, but try never – never – to be trapped in a lift with one or – even worse – two or more of them.
Bandicoot must apologise to any readers offended by any perceived levity in this item. Auditors are the very financial backbone of legally constituted bodies including businesses large and small, community groups, sporting clubs and even municipal councils. Their members are legislatively – and must be – independent of influence, or the possible outcome can be a flourishing of corrupt practices.
And that is no joke.