Live streaming success supports call for online Council meetings

Published on 30 March 2020

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Last week’s live-streamed Council meeting was a working example of how digital media could be used more effectively in governing Corangamite Shire.

Mayor Neil Trotter has echoed the Municipal Association of Victoria’s calls for the Victorian Government to urgently change Council meeting requirements to enable meetings to take place online.

The MAV last week called on the State Government to amend the Local Government Act to enable Councils to hold meetings online or to use declaration powers under the Emergency Management Act to allow for alternative solutions.

The Local Government Act 2020 requires Councillors to be physically in attendance at a Council meeting in order to participate in Council decision-making. If there isn’t a majority of Councillors in attendance, Councils cannot make a quorum and the meetings cannot proceed.

“We have to ask if this requirement has any basis or if it’s just an old habit from a bygone era,” Cr Trotter said. “Modern technology has reshaped how the world does business and it’s time we had the same flexibility.”

The Shire’s first live stream, hastily put together in response to the coronavirus pandemic social distancing requirements, used existing equipment and the free Facebook platform, incurring no cost to ratepayers. It reached a peak of 53 people watched at one time and received 62 post interactions.

“The numbers were far higher than the attendees who would normally come to a Council meeting,” Cr Trotter said.

“That shows it’s also a better way to engage and educate community members, empowering them to take a more active part in our democratic system.”

Cr Trotter said the coronavirus (COVID-19) posed a genuine risk to Council doing its job, as long as outdated laws required Councillors to be physically present to vote.

He said if three or four Councillors were in self isolation, but not actually unwell, a Council meeting still could not go ahead, with significant consequences.

“There are various functions of Council enshrined in strict legislation, such as passing the Budget. If the Budget could not be passed because of physical circumstances, Council may not be able to fund its operations.

“It’s not just coronavirus. We have a history of fires and floods in this Shire and there are many conceivable ways Councillors may be prevented from gathering in person.”

Requiring Councillors to meet face to face goes against current advice to adopt social distancing measures to slow the spread of Coronavirus.