I refer to the motion passed at the meeting of the South Gippsland Shire Council held on February 24, declaring confidential the draft budget.
The motion recites that it is prejudicial to council to disclose the information in the draft budget.
In my view the motion is contrary to the principal that council should be transparent.
I understand that this is the first time the draft budget has been declared confidential.
One wonders why it is necessary this year when it has not been necessary in the past.
The motion states that the section of the act relied upon is section 89(2) (h).
That section enables council to declare certain communications confidential.
To be justified, the act requires that there be some prejudice to council or some individual.
It is difficult to see the prejudice that could be suffered by council if ratepayers read the draft budget.
It is more difficult to see how an individual can be prejudiced in those circumstances.
Further the Act requires the reason for the prejudice to be stated in the motion. No such reason has been expressed.
Accordingly, one is left with the conclusion that the reason behind the motion is to deny ratepayers the opportunity to debate the draft budget.
In my view, that is not an adequate reason to declare the draft budget confidential.
It is contrary to the concept of democracy that requires that the electors have an opportunity to debate important issues and also against the principal of transparency.
One has to ask what does the council have to hide in declaring the draft budget confidential.
Why cannot council bear to have the draft budget scrutinised?
At best it indicates a council prepared to “rule by Decree” and in secrecy without giving electors an opportunity to debate the budget prior to its being passed.
It also indicates a council that is dysfunctional in that a majority feels that it is entitled to stifle a minority from debating the draft budget.
You may recall that the Ombudsman made some trenchant criticisms of the councillors of Brimbank for acting in a partisan fashion.
The motion is also significant because of the penalty that may be imposed for breaching confidentiality.
Under the recent reforms to Section 77 of the Act a criminal sanction can be imposed for disclosing confidential information.
That in itself would indicate that the power to declare information confidential should be used sparingly.
I hope that council affirms the principal of transparency and rejects the motion.
VA Morfuni QC, Melbourne.