Do you know how your Mayor and councillors vote on issues that matter to you?
Redland City’s Mayor and Councillors meet twice a month to make important decisions on behalf of the community. The Council spends about $250 million each year and is responsible for deciding often contentious matters like:
- increases to rates and charges
- which infrastructure and services to provide in response to community requests
- changes to the City’s planning scheme which may impact on existing communities
- approval of major developments with environmental impacts
- local laws about issues like the nuisance of barking dogs
Media releases are often issued by the Council after meetings. They are typically drafted to achieve a political objective instead of meeting the community’s need for useful information. Anyone reading them should carefully assess the amount of spin that has been applied.
The Redland City Bulletin attends Council meetings and publishes reports on matters that it considers to be newsworthy. But much happens that is not covered in news articles.
Lots of questions
The voting records of the Mayor and each Councillor are rarely subjected to detailed public scrutiny.
By shining a spotlight on official voting records, the performance of elected representatives can be better assessed and understood by the electors. It then becomes possible to answer questions, on an issue by issue basis, such as:
- Did the Councillor elected to represent you actually vote in your interest?
- Who abstained from voting due to a conflict of interest?
- Were any councillors absent?
- Did the Mayor and councillors vote in line with their election commitments?
- Is their voting in line with Redland City’s Community Plan?
If this detailed information is readily available, public debate about local government can then move from spin and photo opportunities to a fact based discussion about what positions the Mayor and each Councillor have supported or opposed in Council meetings. Except, of course, when they have had to excuse themselves because of a conflict of interest.
Council minutes and the Redland City Council Voting Table
Council Meetings are open to the public except when Council meets in “closed session” to discuss matters that councillors believe should not be made known to the public. The number of Council meeting hours available for public scrutiny has significantly reduced in the last few years. Prior to 2012, there were about ten hours/week of Council meetings held in public. Now the average is about two hours per week. Much more discussion by councillors now takes place in the “smoke-filled rooms” of councillor workshops and informal meetings of councillors.
Unlike State and Federal parliaments, the public does not have on-line access to a full record of discussions at Council meetings. An audio record is made of each formal Council meeting. In theory, this is available to the public (except if the discussion is closed to the public). But the Council will only make audio records available in response to a Right to Information request which costs at least $43.50 to lodge.
The Council publishes meeting agendas and minutes on its website. Meeting minutes contain the wording of motions that are voted upon and the results of votes.
So that the community can better understand what “business” is actually dealt with by our elected representatives, and how they have voted, Redlands2030 has used these meeting minutes to compile voting records for the Mayor and each Councillor for the period from when the current Council was elected in 2012 to the end of 2014.
This database is now being made available to the community. It is presented in the form of an Excel spreadsheet known as the Redland City Councillor Voting Table. This is a work in progress. Redlands2030 will undertake further development work to make the Voting Table easier to read and use.
Here is a link to the Redland City Councillor Voting Table.
Voting transparency at other levels of government
The Open Australia Foundation encourages and enables people to participate directly in the political process on a local, community and national level. The foundation provides a website theyvoteforyou which shows how each Federal member of parliament has voted on various issues.
For example, here is a link to local MP Andrew Laming’s voting record.
Voting records are grouped into issues (called policies) such as:
- Decreasing availability of welfare payments
- Charging postgraduate research students fees
- Increasing marine conservation
- Restricting foreign ownership
The Open Australia Foundation’s information about Federal politicians’ voting records provides useful ideas and inspiration for enhancement of the Redland City Councillor Voting Table.
Working to improve Council transparency
The transparency of local government can be improved through community interest and involvement.
By informing Redlands2030 of the local government issues you think are important, and identifying which of the items in the Voting Table are relevant to that issue, it becomes easier for everyone to see what is important for the Redlands Community.
In addition, if you have the skill set (or resources) to help Redlands2030 develop the Redland City Councillor Voting Table into a more user friendly and informative website like theyvoteforyou please let us know. Email firstname.lastname@example.org.