14 June, 2023
Bid to make secret document public
An attempt by a Tablelands Regional councillor to make public a secret document has failed, but the matter is expected to come to a head.
An attempt by a Tablelands Regional councillor to make public a secret document that will guide council’s future service delivery to residents and ratepayers has failed, but the matter is expected to come to a head when council meets at the end of this month.
Cr David Clifton made an impassioned plea to his colleagues at the last meeting for the Service Planning review, conducted by an independent consultant, to be made public, describing it as “the most important and significant matter that we have faced in our term”.
Over the past two months, councillors have referred to the service level review on numerous occasions during council meetings, with Deputy Mayor Kevin Cardew warning that “hard decisions” were coming, such as the closure of Mt Garnet waste transfer station which was decided at the May meeting.
Cr Clifton said the review revealed the long-term financial viability of the council in extensive detail and he believed the community had a right to know what it says, pleading with other councillors to support his motion to make it public.
“This is a watershed moment of the last 10-15 years of council administration and when we put it into effect, it will be significant,” he told them.
But Mayor Rod Marti disagreed, saying the document should remain confidential. “It’s my view I don’t think we should the document should be made public - I don’t think it’s in our interest as an organisation,” he said.
“It’s a really important document that’s been done by a highly professional firm that does this work.
“What they have provided is with is the methodology for our service planning. They haven’t done the service planning for us, it’s our task, in concert with CT Management (the consultants), to actually process through the methodology of service planning.
“I don’t think it’s wise for council to table the document. It’s a document we commissioned for a very specific organisational-wide service level review.
“Personally, I don’t it’s smart for us to do that.”
But Cr Clifton said the issue was one of transparency.
“Mr Mayor, I see there are lots of things we need to keep to ourselves but this report has such long-term significant ramifications about the way TRC as a public body will go forward,” he said.
CEO Gary Rinehart asked for time to review the document again to determine it wouldn’t “give rise to things such as industrial relations type issues”.
“I’ve haven’t examined it through that lens,” he told council.
He also wanted to consider whether the review document would “ordinarily” meet the criteria applied to determine when a report to council could be placed into a closed session for deliberation.
Cr Clifton said advice obtained from the Local Government Association of Queensland had led him to believe there was no legitimate reason to keep the review secret.
“I am of the view that this report could not move into confidentiality that there’s nothing in there that meets the confidentiality requirements for council,” he said.
Mr Rinehart said he also wanted to discuss the matter with the authors of the review before any decision was made to make it public.
Cr Clifton agreed time was needed to seek that advice and council eventually voted to ask the CEO to bring a report to the June ordinary meeting to make a final decision on whether the review could be tabled.
Cr Clifton also stressed that time was of the essence to start implementing the recommendations made in the service level review.
“We’ve have had it since February 2023 – we commissioned it, we’ve had it, we’ve workshopped it,” he told councillors.
“It was prepared by a highly reputable national firm and I believe it’s prudent to follow their advice.
“We have workshopped the report with staff and I do not think that this is a matter which is in doubt by you, the councillors, or by the staff that we should not implement the recommendations in the report.”
He also wanted to gauge whether councillors had an appetite to set a timeframe for the implementation of the report’s recommendations, saying time was short before council would have to start considering how the recommendations may affect the 2024- 25 Budget.
Mr Rinehart said the organisation has begun implementing some of the recommendations and he was happy to provide council with status reports.
“The report is being progressed in accordance with the timeframes that we discussed with council and I’ll let you know if we can’t achieve those timeframes,” he said.