SURF Coast Shire councillor Heather Wellington’s campaign for more transparency from her own council has found a supporter in state Parliament, with Liberal Member for Western Victoria Beverly McArthur raising the issue last week.
Earlier this year, Cr Wellington made a Freedom of Information (FOI) request for what she described as “two secret documents used by the shire to make a planning decision”, which was rejected by the shire.
It is unclear what either of the two documents are.
The Information Commissioner decided that one of the documents was wrongly withheld and should have been released, but the shire has not done so.
Speaking in Parliament on May 30, Ms McArthur said the shire’s refusal was based on “a legal technicality that the Information Commissioner took too long to make the decision”.
“The commissioner objects to that interpretation and is challenging it with the shire. The shire is pursuing this pointless process using ratepayer money.
“Local governments, like all forms of government, should be accountable and transparent.
“Cr Wellington was merely attempting to uphold these principles, yet she continues to be met with intense obfuscation, investigation and antagonism.
“The shire’s refusal to release information demonstrates their clear preference for secrecy over transparency and accountability.”
Ms McArthur also noted a complaint was lodged with the Local Government Inspectorate against Cr Wellington for misusing her position as a councillor by making the FOI request, but that Cr Wellington was cleared by the inspectorate on May 8.
“Any citizen should have the right to make an application for access to documents held by the government, and that includes local government, unless there are extenuating security issues.”
Ms McArthur said there was a “necessity for the state government to take action against dictatorial local governments who mistreat councillors”.
The action I seek from the minister (Minister for Local Government Adem Somyurek) is to establish what actions he and this government are taking to keep all local governments transparent and accountable while assuring Victorians that interference in the proper scrutiny of government by elected representatives is not impeded by executive officers and councillors.”