New media policy prompts Coast councillor to put sock in mouth
IT is not often you see a Livingstone Shire councillor making a bold, symbolic political statement in opposition to a policy change.
But yesterday Cr Adam Belot stood in front of a full council chamber with a sock taped to his mouth.
Cr Belot was protesting the council's new media policy, concerned the latest adjustments would gag members from making free statements to the press.
The move sees mayor Bill Ludwig nominated as the primary spokesperson, who may then delegate councillors holding the relevant portfolio to make official comment.
In addition, councillors may speak on any issue publicly, but must make it clear they are representing their own views and not that of the collective council.
It was during the end of discussions over the policy, after around 15 minutes of talk, that Cr Belot stood to explain why he would ultimately be the only LSC councillor voting against the changes, having already asked Cr Ludwig and CEO Chris Murdoch if "Campbell Newman had been consulted" on the document.
He reflected on WWI, and said he believed the ANZACs would be outraged by the policy after fighting for freedom.
"Where my concerns come in is that this doesn't encourage councillors to speak in a way that best represents their constituents. It means a councillor needs to get permission from the mayor to speak. This is not as clear as we like to think it is," Cr Belot said.
"I don't know how that reflects the principles of local government, which talks about transparent and effective process... when you try to control everything you enjoy nothing.
"I think this is pushing and steering towards more control. Western Australia have this policy and are going through absolute turmoil because of it. People want the councillors to speak about what they think and feel is right. We live in the most wonderful democracy there is... which was built not on this style of democracy.
"I bought a sock in and a bit of tape to put it in my mouth and say that this is what I think of this - but I will not do that today."
But he did, for a brief moment, to the utter surprise of the rest of the chamber.
It was so brief there was no time to snap a photo, but enough time to earn rebuttal from the mayor.
"I am afraid I am going to have to reprimand you for this... I think you are just pulling a stunt," Cr Ludwig said.
"Can a councillor talk on any matter? Yes they can. That is called democracy. This is a basic protocol to give clarity on the issues about what is expected of councillors.
"If someone wants to run all over the field and play their own game then they can do that in a democracy, but we have to follow the rules.
"When we are speaking on behalf of the team and for the good of the community, I certainly encourage councillors to embrace this change."
Both Cr Glenda Mather and Cr Jan Kelly spoke in support of the adjustment, saying they did not feel 'gagged'.
"I have never been dragged over the coals for what I have said. And you know I do it very often. I am happy to support it and if anyone is constrained unfairly I will be the first one to bring it back to the table," Cr Mather said.
Cr Mather, Cr Kelly, Cr Ludwig, Cr Graham Scott, Cr Tom Wyatt and Cr Nigel Hutton voted for the adjustment.
Cr Belot voted against, with the motion passing with a majority.
The change will also see the removal of limitations on the CEO to not provide comment to the media on policy matters.