New updates to the Model Code of Meeting Practice: What do they mean for NSW local councils?
An update on new model code of meeting practice that NSW local councils will have to adopt.
On Friday 12 November 2021, an updated Model Code of Meeting Practice for NSW local councils (New Code) was prescribed for the purposes of s360(1) of the Local Government Act 1993 (NSW) (LG Act) by the Local Government (General) Amendment (Model Code of Meeting Practice) Regulation 2021 (Amendment Regulation). The New Code was published in the Gazette on 29 October 2021. The main changes reflect amendments to the Local Government (General) Regulation 2021 (LG Regulation) and meeting practice, as a result of the pandemic. For example, the New Code introduces non-mandatory provisions which may be adopted by councils to allow meetings to be held by audio-visual link and to allow councillors to attend meetings by audio-visual link.
What are the key changes?
The New Code makes the following key changes:
- Introduces non-mandatory provisions allowing councillors to attend meetings by audio-visual link when approved by the Council or relevant committee.
- Introduces non-mandatory provisions allowing council meetings to be held by audio-visual link in the event that a natural disaster or public health emergency occurs. This may only occur when the mayor is satisfied that attendance at the meeting may present a risk to the health and safety of councillors and their staff. The option to hold council meetings by audio-visual link also extends to pre-meeting briefing sessions and public forums to hear oral submissions from members of the public.
- Amends the mandatory webcasting requirements to reflect amendments to the LG Regulation since the previous iteration of the model code of meeting practice. Each council and committee meeting must be recorded by means of an audio or audio-visual device. At the start of each meeting, the chairperson is required to inform persons in attendance that the meeting is being recorded, is made publicly available via the Council’s website and that all persons should refrain from making any defamatory statements.
- Amends the disorders provisions, including mandatory clause 15.11(d), which specifies one of the ways a councillor may commit an act of disorder at a meeting, i.e. where a councillor insults, ‘makes unfavourable personal remarks about’, or imputes improper motives to any other council official, or alleges a breach of the Council’s code of conduct. The New Code replaces the previous phrase ‘makes personal reflections on’, which may have included a positive or negative reflection, with the more pejorative ‘makes unfavourable personal remarks about’.
- Implements recommendation 6 of ICAC’s Report into the former Canterbury City Council. This requires all council business papers to include an ethical statement to remind councillors of their oath or affirmation of office under s233A of the LG Act and obligation to disclose and manage conflicts of interest.
The Amendment Regulation extends the provision in the LG Regulation (s237(3)) that exempts councillors from being personally present at meetings until 30 June 2022. This exemption provides councils with time to exhibit and adopt new codes of meeting practice which allow attendance at meetings by audio-visual link.
What does this mean for councils?
Councils are required to adopt a code of meeting practice that incorporates changes to the mandatory provisions as set out in the New Code by 4 December 2022. However, if they wish to hold meetings by audio-visual link, and allow councillors to attend meetings by audio-visual link after 30 June 2022, they will need to adopt a new code of meeting practice on or before that date.
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