Hopes for a return of the old-fashioned free-for-all council question time have been dashed, with councillors stifled by laws introduced in the wake of major corruption scandals within some Queensland councils.
Hopes for a return of the old-fashioned free-for-all council question time have been dashed, with councillors stifled by laws introduced in the wake of major corruption scandals within some Queensland councils.

New laws stifling councillors’ voices

THE return of a traditional free-for-all question time at Gympie council meetings has been quashed, with State Government, LGAQ and council advice warning against bringing the old model back.

Council governance officer Brian Hayes said reinstating general business was not prohibited by the Act, but the old model left serious legal risks under the new conflict of interest legislation.

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Scandals like that which undid ex-Ipswich Mayor Paul Pisasale caused new conflict of interest laws to be introduced. (AAP Image/Dave Hunt) NO ARCHIVING.
Scandals like that which undid ex-Ipswich Mayor Paul Pisasale caused new conflict of interest laws to be introduced. (AAP Image/Dave Hunt) NO ARCHIVING.

Mr Hayes suggested the council consider a middle ground of 72 hours' notice for any items councillors would like to raise. This would allow them to seek advice if needed.

"It's not only your own individual conflicts … but it's being aware and raising concerns about the potential conflict of any other councillor," Mr Hayes said.

"I challenge any councillor in a split second to challenge the potential conflicts of any other councillor in the room."

General business was controversially dropped from council meetings in 2016 in that council's first meeting.

Two-thirds of those councillors were sitting at their first ever meeting.

Mayor Glen Hartwig agreed the old model would be “fraught with danger” under the new laws.
Mayor Glen Hartwig agreed the old model would be “fraught with danger” under the new laws.

The Gympie Times campaigned for its return in the lead-up to the March election.

Mr Hayes said since it was dropped, new laws had been created making any failure to raise potential conflicts an automatic misconduct offence.

These were brought in after the "southeast Queensland debacle" of corruption scandals, in areas like Ipswich.

"That's been introduced in view of what the CCC and other parties saw as an oversight in the legislation."

Punishments can include two years' jail.

Mayor Glen Hartwig agreed the old model was "fraught with danger".

However he said the community had "a concern we weren't as open as we should've been and council didn't have enough opportunity to raise issues as they should".

Any decision on the return of general business will be made at the meeting at the end of the month.