Council move to ’gag’ Cr Kirwan

Cr Matthew Kirwan says colleagues are moving to 'gag' him during council meetings. 194583_02 Picture: STEWART CHAMBERS

By Cam Lucadou-Wells

A Greater Dandenong councillor has accused colleagues of “gagging themselves” in an attempt to gag him at future council meetings.

Cr Matthew Kirwan made the claim during a debate on proposed procedural changes, including the limiting of each councillor to eight minutes of questioning council directors.

From the start of his six-year tenure, Cr Kirwan had become renowned for his lengthy, thorough interrogation of council directors.

He would often ask follow-up questions for directors to clarify their answers or to respond to each part of his multi-tiered questions.

His personal Q&A time often well exceeded eight minutes.

“Let’s be honest (it’s) because of me … asking many tough but important questions responding to the needs of the community,” Cr Kirwan said at a meeting on 11 June.

“But what gets even stranger in this quest to gag me from doing my role in an accountable, transparent way is that councillors who support it are gagging themselves.

“Preventing their own ability to do their job, bringing up important issues and holding Council officers accountable.”

Cr Kirwan said the “regressive” and “timid” document missed the chance to allow members-of-the-public to verbally ask questions at council meetings.

It also “explicity” banned online petitions such as from change.org – a move “out of touch with the modern world”, he said.

“Change.org have been used by residents particularly in the new estates of Keysborough because they are practical for busy young families.”

Cr Sean O’Reilly said the rules established a “sensible limit” to stop time being used up on a “single person’s whim”.

“It’s true councillors won’t be able to ask every single question they can think of.

“Councillors won’t be gagged. They will be able to ask the most important questions … and will still have the full attention of this council.

“That is better than having council sit late into the night and listen to questions that are unilateral.”

Cr Tim Dark, in opposition, said the “gag motion” was an attempt by the majority Labor councillors to stifle issues raised by residents and councillors.

“It’s saying to the residents we don’t actually care what you say.”

The local laws amendment was adopted in-principle by a majority of councillors.

Other changes include shifting public question time – in the form of written submissions – to earlier in the meeting.

It will be exhibited for community comment before it’s formally adopted.

Mayor Roz Blades said the changes wouldn’t “control or stop people saying whatever they want to say at a council meeting”.

She was looking forward to public feedback to the proposed changes.

“I’m somebody in favour of community consultation and look forward to what the community comes back and says about it.”

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