Beware the ‘trench-coat wearing weirdos’

COUNCILLORS have voted to defy guidelines designed to increase political transparency in a move one councillor labelled "provocative".

Staff and councillors' Disclosure of Interests Returns has again become a topic of fierce debate, with Clarence Valley Council voting to ignore guidelines set out under the Government information (Public Access) Act.

The returns are available for viewing by appointment at the Grafton and Maclean offices, but the GIPA Act and GIPA Regulation states the returns needed to be disclosed on the website of each local council.

Cr Jason Kingsley amended the officer recommendation to ensure neither councillors or designated staff would have their returns posted online.

Mr Kingsley said councillors would still be declaring what is being asked of them and disclosing the information to the public, but there were risks to putting that online.

"There are privacy and safety risks for councillors and our staff and by not putting it on the website at this point in time allows staff to monitor who accesses our private information," he said.

"Like it or not there are some trench-coat-wearing weirdos out there who have nothing better to do with their time than come up with conspiracy theories to defame us.

"I for one don't want the world to have open access to my personal details and I care about the privacy and safety of my fellow councillors as I do my fellow councillors."

General Manager Ashley Lindsay also had reservations about the practice and said there was also "quite a lot of objection" to putting interests on websites at the most recent NSW Local Government conference and council should support the LGNSW resolution.

"On behalf of staff and designated staff or persons, I think it is unfair they are required to have their information on the website available, available for people to view," he said.

"It's not there for State Government, it's not there for Federal Government."

But Cr Karen Toms said she found the situation "extraordinary" as the Information Privacy Commissioner was an "independent statutory authority" and council were "doing the wrong thing" by not following their guidelines.

Cr Toms called several points of order and a motion of dissent during debate in an effort to convince fellow councillors the guidelines from the commissioner were supported by legislation and therefore should be followed

"It is disappointing that we want to protect our information that much we are prepared to go against the privacy commissioners guidelines."

"I have always understood that statutory government departments or guidelines have some teeth and we should be doing what we've been asked to.

"At the moment we are saying ¬ 'throw out those guidelines of an independent statutory authority and go with a resolution at a local government meeting down in Sydney'."

However, Cr Andrew Baker said their decision could bring the issue to a head and council should stick by the LGNSW and not undermine them by posting the returns online.

"If it is unlawful, someone will tell us," he said.

"It has a great opportunity to be provocative and find out exactly where this lays."

Speaking against the motion Cr Greg Clancy said he could not understand what all the fuss was about given sensitive information could be redacted

It worried him that "people wanted to be so secretive" and Cr Clancy said it didn't matter whether "1 or 100 people look at it, it is for transparency".

"What is the problem with being a bit open. It's a beat up. We should be open and transparent," he said.

"I don't care whether the federal or state government do it or not, that doesn't mean we shouldn't. In fact they should as well."

The motion was carried 6 to 3 with Cr Novak, Toms, Clancy voting against.

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