Public Question Time (PQT) is a cornerstone of public participation in Council processes and decision making. Currently in Monash it is the only regularly scheduled and ongoing opportunity community members have to publicly express their concerns and seek answers from Council. A review of Monash Council’s Public Question Time (PQT) is required by law in the new Council term. Requests over the last couple of years for an earlier review have been ignored or rejected despite community angst. The PQT procedures introduced in 2007 sadly lack the user friendliness of many procedures used in nearby Councils.
Community members are entitled to ask why experienced Councillors elected by them have not moved to bring Monash Council’s Public Question Time up to best practice standards. Both Cr Geoff Lake (Glen Waverley Ward) and former Councillor Paul Klisaris (Mulgrave Ward) have served on Monash Council since 2000! How many years do they need to plan, implement and review effective and friendly PQT procedures?
VOTE 1 Gayle Nicholas to elect a representative who values public participation.
How Public Question Time works
Public Question Time appears as an item on the agenda. When called the question asker moves to the microphone and reads, yes reads aloud, up to one hundred words. The questioner has submitted the question the day before the meeting so that Council can carefully prepare its response. The Mayor, as Chairperson, reads aloud the Council’s prepared response.
There is no opportunity for responding, discussing or collaborating, just time for reading aloud.
Councils’ procedures for Public Question Time are set out in their Local Laws.
Only residents and ratepayers may ask questions in Monash.
In the cities of Whitehorse, Kingston, Greater Dandenong and many other Councils a member of the public may ask a question. In Monash only residents and ratepayers may ask questions. A volunteer worker who gives generously of their time in Monash but does not pay rates or lives elsewhere may not ask a question. A person employed in Monash but not paying rates or living elsewhere may not ask a question. In other words people who contribute to the Monash community may not ask questions.
Residents and ratepayers in Monash may ask ONE question of up to 100 words. The City of Greater Dandenong allows three questions per person of 300 words each. Kingston Allows five questions and Whitehorse two.
Monash requires a day’s notice to prepare its answer.
In the cities of Whitehorse, Kingston and Greater Dandenong questions may be placed in the Question Box provided at the meeting. In Boroondara Council the Mayor directs the question to the appropriate Councillor. Monash Council requires the question to be handed in the DAY BEFORE so an answer can be prepared for the Mayor to read aloud.
‘My question hasn’t been answered!
I have asked many questions in Council meetings over the last three years. I have lost count of how many times I have heard newcomers say, ‘Council’s reply does not even answer my question.’ Sadly it is often the case. The questioner has a right to seek clarification, under section 15 paragraph 10 of the Local Laws, but such requests I have observed have been denied by the Chairperson.
Participatory practices used by other Councils could become a reality in Monash – vote to ‘Give Council Back to Community’.
Port Phillip Council Local Laws allow the chairperson of Council meetings to call for public comment on any matter before debate begins. Boroondara Council nominates a Councillor or Council Officer to respond to the question: the responder may seek clarification from the question asker, Councillors may seek clarification of the answer given.
Needless to say there are some practices by other Councils I could not agree with e.g., reading out the address of the questioner and recording addresses in the minutes.
The community and Council need to work together to develop user friendly procedures for Monash.
Note: Information on Public Question Time procedures for various Councils has been sourced from Google searches and is used to provide an overview of variations and options only.
Monash Council 2007 Local Law 1 http://www.monash.vic.gov.au/About-Us/Laws-Rules/Local-Law-1-Meeting-Procedures