Inner East Review
Wednesday, 6 December 2023

Yarra changes could 'restrict democracy'

By Jenny Denton
June 7 2022 - 5:00am
Cr Wade ... disagreed with parts of changes
Cr Wade ... disagreed with parts of changes

Changes have been proposed to Yarra City Council's governance rules that would prevent the sort of impasse on electing a mayor that occurred in 2020, but there are fears some proposals could restrict democratic processes.

The rules are required to be updated under state government legislation, but independent councillor Steve Jolly expressed concerns at the last meeting of the council.

In particular, Cr Jolly pointed to a reduction in the time allotted to members of the public to speak on agenda items at council meetings from five minutes to three minutes.

He said the proposed governance changes were part of a trend at Yarra Council that had seen it reduce the number of yearly council meetings. This trend also included an attempt to "gag councillors who disagreed with majority opinion" and a move that made it harder for residents to "stand up against development" by increasing the number of resident objections needed before a proposal could be referred to a planning decisions committee meeting.

Jolly said the council had "been hammered" by members of the public, and was "probably the most unpopular council in the state". "And it's almost like we're saying if the public don't like us, we're going to restrict their right to have a say," he said.

However, Mayor Sophie Wade argued the revisions sought to find "a balance between consultation processes" and ensuring that "the voices of the people who participate in one forum aren't being overshadowed by the voices of the people who participate in another".

Wade said she disagreed with some parts of the proposed governance changes and moved to have council officers investigate ways to improve community input into council processes. The proposed changes will now go out for community consultation.

The mayoral election in 2020 was marred through the absence of Greens councillor, Anab Mohamud, because of assault charges, which meant the vote remained deadlocked after three attempts.

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