Redland City Council appears to be acting against the interests of the City’s ratepayers by using “en bloc” voting to minimise debate about important matters like the Budget.
En bloc voting is, by definition, putting a group of motions together and taking a single vote to pass the group of motions. Is it legitimate for passing motions within Local Government?
Redland City Council would appear to think that it is a legitimate tool for passing motions during budget session voting as it has used this method to pass rate and levy motions in both the 2013/2014 and 2014/2015 budgets. It does raise the question as to whether this was used as a measure to expedite the chamber process or was it simply being used to stifle any meaningful debate about the increases in rates and levies that passed through Redland City Council chambers on budget day.
One may draw a conclusion that the reason is the latter. The Council’s minutes of the day show that a councillor’s request for five minutes of extra debating time on the issue was refused. It does not seem to be allowing for natural justice for the ratepayers of Redland City when our elected councillors are not able to fully debate matters of great concern and financial impact to the City’s population.
Concerns about en bloc voting have been raised by other local government jurisdictions resulting in formal legal advice being obtained. Key points of this legal advice were:
- Voting en bloc is a widely recognised method adopted by the elected body of Councils of transacting business at Council meetings.
- It is not inherently consistent with the Local Government (Procedures at Meetings) Regulations 2000. As a matter of law the method is flawed and it should be avoided other than for a limited range of agenda items such as information only items and/or reports which only require receipt and noting. Otherwise, it places in doubt, informed and responsible decision making. Where a Council uses such a method to make decisions of substance it should do so with caution and be aware of the attendant risks.
- Voting en bloc has no role to play if the decision either will or is likely to affect a third party.
- Councils should be encouraged to implement measures to reinforce informed and responsible decision making and to safeguard both the integrity of the meeting process and the accuracy of Council minutes if they are to address matters en bloc.
Based on the above legal opinion and given the lack of due process in debating issues of great financial importance to the ratepayers of Redland City it would suggest that our council is not acting in the interests the ratepayers of this City.