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Norman Waterhouse

Electronic council meetings now possible pursuant to Minister’s Notice

The Electronic Participation in Council Meetings Notice (No 1) 2020 (the Notice), issued today by Minister for Transport, Infrastructure and Local Government Stephan Knoll, contains the first COVID-19-related emergency variations to the Local Government Act 1999 (LG Act) and the Local Government (Procedures at Meetings) Regulations 2013 (LGPM Regulations) under the new section 302B of the LG Act.

The Notice allows council meetings to be conducted by electronic means. Prior to the Notice, electronic participation in Council meetings (unlike committee meetings) was not possible under the LG Act or LGPM Regulations.

The Notice does not ‘stand alone’. The Notice makes a series of technical amendments to the LG Act and the LGPM Regulations. The interaction between the Notice, the LG Act and LGPM Regulations is complicated; all three instruments must be read together.

The variations made by the Notice are detailed and technical. Matters addressed by the Notice include voting procedures, disconnecting from a meeting due to a conflict of interest, live streaming of meetings to the public, and other matters. Councils with experience using audio or audio-visual technology for committee meetings cannot assume that practices used in those committee meetings will be suitable for council meetings (and variations to Part 2 of the LGPM Regulations mean that some committees already conducting business electronically may need to change their procedures).

Before seeking to utilise these emergency provisions, council members and relevant officers should familiarise themselves with the Notice (available here) and understand precisely how it interacts with the LG Act and the LGPM Regulations.

Council members and officers should also review the Local Government Association’s guidance note (available here). In particular, it should be noted that the first item of business at the next ordinary meeting of any council should be the alteration or substitution of the council’s code of practice for access to meetings and code of practice for meeting procedures.

The legislative variations set out in the Notice are only the ‘first tranche’ of variations. It is anticipated that further variations will be made to address other issues regarding the operation of the LG Act in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic.

For more specific advice about the matters discussed in this article, or about COVID-19 and Local Government generally, please call the LGA COVID-19 hotline on 8224 2099, or Felice D’Agostino on 8210 1202 or or Dale Mazzachi on 8210 1221 of Chris Alexandrides on or 8210 1299.

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