Tick for Wellington transparency

WELLINGTON Shire Council has come up trumps following the release of data revealing the number of decisions Victorian councils make behind closed doors.

Analysis of the latest Know Your Council figures shows that the shire is one of the most transparent in the state, and the most transparent in Gippsland, with only 2.6 per cent of decisions made behind closed doors in 2016-17.

In contrast, East Gippsland Shire made almost 42 per cent of its decisions behind closed doors in 2016-17 — the highest of all 79 Victorian councils.

At Tuesday’s council meeting, Cr Darren McCubbin said 97.3 per cent of all Wellington Shire’s council decisions were made in open council meetings, and that the council was happy to “suffer the slings and arrows of what that may bring”.

“The next best (most transparent) is seven per cent,” he said.

“This is something we should not take for granted.”

Cr McCubbin said he was proud of the council’s approach to “have the doors open”.

The City of Melbourne also scored poorly, coming in just after East Gippsland, with 29 per cent of its meetings behind closed doors.

A 2016 Victorian Ombudsman report into council decision making found that “secrecy breeds suspicion”, and decisions made behind closed doors, not published on council websites or otherwise exposed to the public gaze, “make people suspicious” about decisions and the use of public money.

The ombudsman, Deborah Glass, found that transparency was also a “human rights issue: our right to have the opportunity, without discrimination, to participate in public affairs”.

Her report noted that council transparency was “a random matter across the state — some councils have embraced it, with innovations such as web-streaming council meetings, while others have moved to restrict public access.”

Ms Glass found that “transparency must be a cornerstone of local government practice, not merely a box to be ticked”.