Who can attend Council / Committee Meetings?
Any person can attend a Council meeting or the meeting of a Committee of which all the members are the Administrator(s)/Councillors. However, members of the public are not entitled to attend other types of meetings (eg, committees comprising of Administrator(s)/Councillors and non-Councillor or informal briefing meetings). Councils can make these meetings open to the public if they choose to do so.
What parts of a meeting are closed to the public?
Although members of the public are able to attend the meetings of Council, the Council or the Committee may still close the meeting to the public, if the matter is dealing with:
- Personnel matters concerning particular individuals (other than Administrator(s)/Councillors);
- The personal hardship of any resident or ratepayer;
- Information that would, if disclosed, confer a commercial advantage on a person with whom the Council is conducting, or proposes to conduct, business with;
- Commercial information of a confidential nature that would, if disclosed:
- Prejudice the commercial position of the person who supplied it, or
- Confer a commercial advantage on a competitor of the Council, or
- Reveal a trade secret;
- Information that would, if disclosed, prejudice the maintenance of law;
- Matters affecting the security of the Council, Administrator(s)/Councillors, Council Staff or Council property;
- Advice concerning litigation, or advice that would otherwise be privileged from production in legal proceedings on the ground of legal professional privilege;
- Information concerning the nature and location of a place or an item of Aboriginal significance on community land;
- Alleged contraventions of the Council’s Code of Conduct.
The existence of any of these grounds do not necessarily place an obligation on a Council to close a meeting to the public to deal with these matters, or information (though in most cases it would be appropriate to do so), but simply permits the Council to do so. The Council needs to demonstrate why it is in the public interest to close the meeting to discuss the matter or information.
When can a Council meeting be closed?
Council can close its meeting to the public without further discussion to consider three types of matters:
- Personnel matters concerning particular individuals;
- Matters involving personal hardship of a resident or ratepayer;
- Matters that disclose a trade secret.
Otherwise, Council must consider the reasons why it would close the meeting to the public to be satisfied that discussion of the matter in an open meeting of the Council would, on balance, be contrary to the public interest if discussed in open Council.
It is irrelevant that, when determining whether a matter in an open meeting would be contrary to the public interest if:
- A person may misinterpret or misunderstand the discussion;
- The discussion of the matter may cause embarrassment to the Council or Committee concerned, or to Administrator(s)/Councillors or to employees of the Council;
- The discussion of the matter may cause a loss of confidence in the Council or Committee.
The Local Government Act 1993 is also clear about whether a Council may receive and consider information or advice concerning litigation or the subject of legal professional privilege unless the advice concerns legal matters that:
- Are substantial issues relating to a matter in which the Council or Committee is involved; and
- Are clearly identified in the advice; and
- Are fully discussed in that advice.
Can members of the public have any say on whether a meeting is closed to the public?
Yes. A Council or a Committee may allow members of the public to make representations to or at a meeting, before any part of the meeting is closed to the public, as to whether that part of the meeting should be closed.
How long should the meeting remain closed?
The Local Government Act requires a Council to close their meeting for only so much of the discussion as is necessary to preserve the relevant confidentiality, privilege or security being protected.
How is notice given to the public about matters to be discussed in a closed meeting?
Where the General Manager is of the opinion that items are to be included in a closed part of the Council meeting, the agenda must state the item of business and the reason for it being discussed in a closed meeting. Ultimately, the decision to close a part of a Council meeting rests with the Council. This would mean that the Council may continue to discuss items that have been placed in a closed part of a Council meeting agenda, in open Council. Conversely, where an item has been placed in the open agenda of a Council meeting, the Council may still close the meeting to consider the item, however, only if:
It becomes apparent during the discussion of a particular matter that the matter is one for which any of the grounds for closure exist; and
The Council or Committee, after considering any representations made by members of the public, resolves that further discussion of the matter:
Should not be deferred (because of the urgency of the matter), and
Should take place in a part of the meeting that is closed to the public.
What information must be recorded in the minutes of a Council meeting where decisions have been made in closed Council?
The Local Government Act requires that the grounds on which the part of a meeting is closed to the public must be stated in the decision to close that part of the meeting. This must be recorded in the minutes of the Council meeting. The grounds must specify the following:
- The relevant grounds on which the meeting is being closed,
- The matter that is to be discussed during the closed part of the meeting,
- The reasons why the part of the meeting is being closed, including an explanation of the way in which discussion of the matter in an open meeting would be, on balance, contrary to the public interest (unless the matter relates to a personnel matter concerning particular individuals, the personal hardship of a resident or ratepayer or a trade secret).
The resolutions of a Council made during a closed part of a meeting need to be recorded in the minutes of that meeting.
Can members of the public access confidential business papers?
No. Whilst the business papers and minutes of a Council meeting are deemed to be open access information under the Government Information (Public Access) Act 2009, where a matter is considered in a part of a meeting that is closed to the public, only the resolutions and recommendations of the meeting are open access information.
Should Council receive a request under the GIPA Act for access to a confidential report of a Council meeting, the principles of the GIPA Act apply and the public interest test must be applied in order to determine whether there is an overriding public interest against disclosure, which outweighs the public interest in favour of disclosure.
All Council Meetings are conducted in accordance with Council’s Code of Meeting Practice