South Burnett Councillors have to get the Mayor's approval before speaking to the media about their portfolios.
South Burnett Councillors have to get the Mayor's approval before speaking to the media about their portfolios. Rhiannon Tuffield

'NOT HAPPY': Councillor pushes back on communication policy

THE South Burnett Regional Council passed a raft of policies aimed at controlling the flow of information to the public.

They follow recommendations from the State Crime and Corruption Commission's Belcarra Report into corrupt local governments.

At its June meeting this morning, the council updated its Councillor Code of Conduct, Portfolio Representative and Media Relations policies to pre-empt action it expects the state government to take.

Along with clarifying issues around conflicts of interest and councillors using their positions to gain financial advantage, the new policies reaffirm the mayor as the council's official spokesman.

The media relations policy requires councillors to brief the mayor and senior staff before they speak to journalists about issues in their portfolio.

They also need to brief the mayor and senior staff before holding formal group meetings with members of the public.

Where possible, the new policy states senior staff and the mayor should attended meetings with the public and reporters.

The policy emphasises written responses to media enquiries should be reviewed by the council's corporate performance department.

Cr Ros Heit wasn't happy with the changes and was concerned they would limit the ability of councillors to engage with their constituents.

"I'm not happy with the changes, I believe we have a very open and approachable council and I think people know we are in the community and they trust what we say and have confidence in us," she said.

"Previously portfolio councillors have been able to make comment to the media on council activities relating to their portfolio area and now they are not able to do that.

"Secondly if we ever respond to people in the media we have to notify the mayor of the undertaking first.

"Finally, all community engagement activities relating to our portfolio have to be approved by the mayor.

"I believe these changes are reducing our ability to be open and transparent."

Mayor Keith Campbell said the policies were designed to safeguard the reputation of councillors and the wider South Burnett Regional Council.

"We do far too much great work to have it spoiled by comments in the media that create an impression that is vastly different from what happens in house," he said.

"There are cases where we have disagreements about particular matters, I'm very happy to acknowledge that point, but when it becomes a public display through the media and there avenue within which we are able to control that so that it does not spoil the overall reputation of council then I, as mayor, want to provide that level of leadership."

Cr Campbell said there was state-wide change coming to how local governments engage with the public.

"As much as anything, the changes that are happening here are in response to the Balcarra Report," he said.

The council approved the new policies after clarifying that the mayor and senior staff only needed to be briefed before formal constituent meetings.