Councillor Katie Milne.
Councillor Katie Milne. Tweed Daily News

Call to end council 'gag'

NSW Greens MP Sylvia Hale has called for the State Government to intervene to overturn a controversial Tweed Shire Council information ban she warns could lead to corruption.

Ms Hale yesterday slammed the ban on the release of information which could see both the Mayor, Joan van Lieshout and Greens Party councillor Katie Milne face disciplinary action, including a suspension from the Council.

Ms Hale, a member of the NSW Upper House, said the ban presented a corruption threat and councillors had “not learnt anything” from the calls for openness during the Daly Inquiry, which lead to the sacking of the last council.

“Given the potential negative consequences for public administration in the Tweed” she said she was calling on the Minister for Local Government Barbara Perry to intervene.

She said Ms Perry should “ensure that Tweed Council adheres to the principles of freedom of information and stops its attempts to avoid public scrutiny”.

Last week councillors voted to toughen up a controversial media gag, banning councillors from disclosing any information, including details of conversations and emails, not otherwise publicly available.

Cr Milne and Cr van Lieshout voted against the move.

The new gag also follows the release of embarrassing information by Cr Milne about the delays and stalled decisions during the process of making appointments to a major planning panel and the belated revelations by Cr Joan van Lieshout that she had asked general manager Mike Rayner to step down from the board of Rally Australia due to a perceived conflict of interest.

Since then Cr Milne has defied the media ban releasing a secret council report which criticised the lack of environmental safeguards during the upcoming world-championship Rally Australia event.

It also revealed various Tweed sports clubs were being pushed off their home grounds during the event.

The current council has faced criticism about secrecy almost since it was elected last September.

Ms Hale called for the secrecy to end.

“Denying the media and the public access to information creates the sort of climate in which corruption can flourish,” she said.

“The Daly Report into Tweed Council, which led to its dismissal in 2005, specifically criticised the then-council for adopting processes that “resulted in a low level of transparency in its operations.”

“Now this new council is doing exactly the same thing, implementing processes designed to reduce transparency and shut down public scrutiny.

“It's a very dangerous road for the Council to pursue and the Council should reverse its decision immediately.”

Ms Perry's office did not reply to a request for a response.

Yesterday Cr Milne defended her latest breach of the information policy, saying she was the only one doing the job of getting the council assessment of the rally reports to the public.

“I believe that it is the other councillors and the general manager who are in question for hiding this document,” she added.

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