Councillors forced to meet face to face

The Municipal Association of Victoria (MAV) has called on the Victorian Government to urgently make changes to council meeting requirements to enable meetings to take place online.

Requiring councillors to meet face to face goes against current advice to adopt social distancing measures to slow the spread of Coronavirus.

Both the Local Government Act 1989 and the new Local Government Act 2020 require councillors to be physically in attendance at a council meeting in order to participate in council decision-making. Without a majority of councillors in attendance, councils cannot make a quorum and the meetings cannot proceed.

The MAV has called on the State Government to amend the Local Government Act to enable councils to hold meetings online or to use declaration powers under the Emergency Management Act to allow for alternate solutions.

MAV President, Councillor Coral Ross, said in-person meetings are neither practical nor safe and the availability of online alternatives makes the path forward obvious.

“Inflexible council meeting requirements under state legislation is a significant concern for local governments across the country as many council chambers do not allow for appropriate social distancing. This is an unprecedented situation which requires collaboration and innovative thinking.

“We have been proactively working alongside the Victorian Government to provide solutions which will ensure the health and safety of councillors, council staff and the community.

“With streaming and virtual meetings now widely available, we call on the Minister for Local Government, Adem Somyurek, and the State Government to make this common sense decision and enable one of these options to be implemented as an alternative to meeting face to face.”

Lord Mayor Sally Capp has also called on the State to fast-track changes.

“The community relies on councils to make decisions that impact their daily lives, but in the current climate we are handcuffed by the restrictions in the Local Government Act.

“We need to prioritise the health and safety of our communities while also continuing to deliver results,” she said.