Transparency a bit opaque

June 10, 2017

The removal of several years’ worth of Greater Shepparton Council meeting minutes and agendas from the council’s website seems out of step with the council’s commitments to improved transparency and communication.

Minutes dating back several years were recently removed from the meetings section of council’s website.

While only a small portion of community members likely consult the minutes each month and probably fewer still on a regular basis, they are important documents in canvassing decisions by elected representatives, including on how public money is being spent.

The line that privacy is a concern in leaving the minutes online and in the public domain begs the question why it is only now a concern, why this hasn’t been a concern in recent times when years of public decisions have been only a click away.

It also raises the question whether privacy is only a concern for any decisions made more than 12 months ago, but not in the last year.

While the council is only obliged by Local Government general regulations to publish meeting minutes for the past 12 months, the removal of documentation of decisions for the years prior seems out of step with recent claims of ensuring the organisation is moving to become more transparent.

The council has also claimed it wants to engage more people with the local government process.

Removing these records from being freely accessible online flies in the face of plenty of these claims.

A consolation may be that the council has moved to assure that items will still be available by requesting them from the council, but no mention was made of how any privacy concerns would factor in here.

The council has talked about its ‘‘open door policy’’, push towards putting reports in the public arena and making decisions in the open section of meetings wherever possible.

And recent live streaming of meetings and one-on-one mayor and chief executive meet ups are certainly moves in the right direction.

A report last year had indicated Greater Shepparton had transparent practices around its council meetings.

And the removal of these records may not impact many in the community, but it seems to lack solid reasoning and seems well out of step with council’s moves to be more transparent.

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