By Michael Giles
SOUTH Gippsland’s administrators do not have carte blanch to rewrite any council policy they so wish.
Notwithstanding what the Local Government Minister said at the dismissal of the previous council about providing “certainty around the shire’s governance and accountability”, the act under which the Administrators were appointed says as much.
They “must perform all the functions, powers and duties of a Councillor of the South Gippsland Shire Council, which must be treated as if they were performed by a Councillor of the South Gippsland Shire Council”, it says.
In other words, like an elected council, they can propose changes to policies and practices, but the community must have full knowledge of these changes and an opportunity to comment on fundamental changes.
The changes made, in November last year, to the Councillor Support and Expenditure Policy are case in point.
The Administrators have effectively removed the key transparency provisions of the earlier policy, passed by the former council in March 2018, and more worryingly still, they appear to have attempted to retrospectively remove details about the claims made by former councillors from the shire’s website.
Why has this information been removed retrospectively?
Up until the Administrators changed the policy, in November, it was law in the South Gippsland Shire that certain information be published on the shire’s website quarterly.
Now, that information has only to be published in the shire’s annual report, well after the event, and in what form we don’t know.
Having changed the policy and removed the information about past councillors from the website, the Administrators are required to “please explain”.
And, in future, when any such changes are proposed to policy, they are to act like a council and give the community fair notice and reasonable opportunity for input.
Outside of changes necessary to ensure good governance, they should generally leave well enough alone until an elected council is returned in October 2021, a date that is also enshrined in the relevant act.