Petitioners’ privacy protected

DISCLOSURE of names and addresses of people who sign petitions to Wellington Shire Council will remain at the discretion of the chief executive.

A motion by councillor Malcolm Hole for all petitions presented to council to be presented publicly in their entirety was defeated on Tuesday night.

Currently, the council chief executive can decide on a case-by-case basis whether to make the details to petition signatories public when published in meeting agendas.

Cr Hole, the only councillor to vote in favour of the motion, said there was no legal reason why council should not disclose the details. He said people should be able to see whether or not signatories are Wellington Shire residents.

Cr Hole claimed this transparency would allow anyone who wished to object to a petition to have full knowledge for their challenge.

He said a petition was a public document, with anyone signing it able to see it.

Cr Darren McCubbin said council needed to be cautious about releasing the information from petitions.

Having details made public, Cr McCubbin said, may put people at risk of being targeted by opponents.

“People are able to constantly to take quite personally and attack people for their religious or political views,” he said.

“We saw it with the mosque in Bendigo, with the (World Congress of Families) conference that occurred in Hallam and we saw it, to some degree, in Coongulla in regards to the men’s night out that people can have extraordinarily strong views which unfortunately demonstrated in some quite nasty comments.

“Placing those people on the public record has a degree of risk.

“It might stop them from feeling confident about putting their name forward. Surely, it’s our job as councillors to protect people when they put their name forward.

“I’ve got no problem in the main with the names and addresses being demonstrated, but in particular instances, they may be of a religious or political nature, one of them may be illness, I think it is incredibly inopportune to show those names.”

Cr McCubbin said he could not recall a case from his time on council in which a different decision would have been made if names and addresses on petitions were made public.

“Yes, the names and addresses are hidden to the general public, but I as a councillor can go and see those names whenever I want,” he said.