City of Whittlesea administrators Bruce Billson, Lydia Wilson and Peita Duncan.

By Colin MacGillivray

A NEW public transparency policy allowing Whittlesea residents free access to council documents will bring the city into line with the Local Government Act 2020.
The policy was unanimously adopted by council administrators at this month’s meeting.

Outlined in the policy is an objective of promoting openness and transparency in council decision-making processes and raising public awareness of the availability of council information.

Administrator Peita Duncan said council could improve its transparency by putting more information relating to decision-making processes online.

“Currently much of the information council is required to make available in public registers is maintained in a laborious paper form and it is often only available for inspection at the civic centre physically,” she said.

“I think this is a great opportunity to digitalise this information so it is easily accessible for everybody.

“The policy will clarify how information will be made available on the website where possible and over time council’s website will be modified to make accessing all the information as simple as possible.”

Under the policy, council records to be kept online include agendas and minutes of meetings, terms of reference and records relating to council advisory meetings, registers of gifts, benefits and hospitality received by administrators, and records of conflict of interest.

Ms Duncan said the policy would also set up a complaints process for people who were not satisfied with the release of council information.

“I think this is a great step forward in terms of full transparency and good governance, and I hope the community is better able to access this information in the future,” she said.

Administrator chair Lydia Wilson said she fundamentally supported the principles of the new policy.

“It aims to ensure that council meetings are open and transparent and that we minimise confidential forums,” she said.

“Publishing and making accessible information, whether it’s a policy or a register of gifts received, travel undertaken or conflicts of interest [is important].It will strengthen overall disclosure and accountability.”

The policy does make provisions for council to withhold information if it is deemed contrary to the public interest.

Information will include personal information, security information, legal privileged information and information likely to prejudice council business.