David Risstrom - Greens Melbourne City Councillor 1999-2004
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ACHIEVEMENT: Melbourne City Council reforms its practices to ensure the maximum possible of its business is conducted in open Council, rather than in closed session.

TARGET DATE: December 2003 PROGRESS: Achieved.

DESCRIPTION: When I was first elected to Melbourne City Council in 1999 approximately half of the agenda of Council meetings was conducted in closed sessions that excluded public scrutiny. I felt this was wrong and set about to change the way Council operated as a open decision making body.

Closed sessions are used legitimately by Council decision making bodies when considering matters that if made in public would hinder the fair decision making process, prejudice individuals unfairly when weighted against the public's right to know, and limited contractual matters where without the parties consent the release of information would unfairly prejudice parties involved. It was my view that with approximately half of the agenda items being held in close session that the exercise of this discretion was not being weighed in favour of the public interest.

The crunch came during debates on the reintroduction of cars into Swanston Street. Reports were presented in Council closed session that deserved public scrutiny. As a barrister, I knew to consider the rules governing operation of the Council. The understanding operating to date had been that where situations such as the above arose, that the Council 'must' make those decisions in closed session. This was a misunderstanding of the meeting rules. The rules clearly stated that in such circumstances, the Council 'may' decide to consider agenda items in closed session. Arguing this point in Council, I won the vote by majority. Following that win, I was told a very senior Council official was heard to say "That is the last time they will get anything sensitive."

After significant bureaucratic and political follow-up. support for the principle grew among my colleague and the Council's old practices were changed. This lead to the previous practice of approximately half of Council decision making moving from closed session, to one where the Council considered the merits of whether the matters should be dealt with in closed session, and increased the proportion of open sessions dramatically.

FURTHER INFORMATION: With support from Cr. Kitching in subsequent years, a practice of commencing the meeting by considering the need to have agenda items in open or closed session was agenda was adopted. This greatly improved the systematic way that agenda items could be dealt with in public session.


Cool Green Tip Of The Week -

23 April 2017: Only those who decline to scramble up the career ladder are interesting as human beings. Nothing is more boring than a man with a career: Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, The Gulag Archipelago 1918 -1956.

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