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Councillors believe memorandum an attack on free speech

THREE Fraser Coast councillors refused to support a memorandum of understanding between the council and Fraser Coast Opportunities because they fear it is an attack on free speech and something that will create needless bureaucracy.

Asked to vote on the agreement at last Wednesday's ordinary meeting in Maryborough, councillors James Hansen, Chris Loft and Rolf Light refused to support the MOU, Cr Light later saying he believed it unnecessary and a blight on democratic process.

All three of the councillors told the Chronicle they thought the memorandum would limit a councillor's ability to voice opinions on the entity and its performance.

While Fraser Coast Mayor Gerard O'Connell denied it would restrict free speech and said similar agreements were already in place between the council and entities such as Wide Bay Water Corporation.

"This is absolutely no limit to free speech, this is absolutely no limit to free speech...being able to voice your opinion, and to represent yourself or your constituency, is a big part of our business and I would not resile from that," Cr O'Connell said.

"How you do it, how you do it, is a matter of integrity and professionalism, and if you look at it, the document says things like, instil public confidence; conduct yourself (so) that you maintain public trust and confidence; respect fellow directors; refrain from harassing, bullying, intimidating...they are simple democratic, well-accepted standards."

Cr Loft argued that councillors were already bound by a Department of Local Government code of conduct that and he believed it was sufficientin its guidelines.

Cr Hansen added: "(I'm) especially (concerned) with the media side (of the MOU), It means we can't really express our view publicly and I think if ratepayers are forking out pretty substantial amounts of money to fund FCO and we're not happy with it, we should be able to speak our minds.

"I think it's a layer of bureaucracy we didn't need, we're already covered there by the Local Government Act, and I really have concerns about stifling our freedoms of speech."

Ratepayers through the council pay about $42,000 each week so that FCO can look after the region's interests in tourism, marketing, events and investment attraction.

The MOU states that councillors must: "respect the democratic process and publicly represent the board's decisions without criticism, regardless of personal views".

It also demands councillors: "avoid public criticism of Fraser Coast Opportunities, (the) council, councillors, (FCO) directors, staff and partners".

But Cr O'Connell said it was standard business practice.

"I think it's an entirely appropriate document," he said.

"I think it's about good governance, I think when you're in a position of an elected person, be a councillor, state or federal member, I think there is an expectation and a responsibility that you will conduct yourself in a certain fashion, you will abide by codes of conduct and legislation and good business practice.

"I've been involved in a number of businesses over the years and signing MOU's or heads of agreement or whatever they might be called, that talk about how you will progress a joint venture project or an entity or an initiative, is a very appropriate thing, so I'm all for it."

Topics:  fraser coast opportunities, fraser coast regional council




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