Sunday, May 15, 2016

BCC Committee Meetings: An embarrassment of democracy and why you should attend

By Michael Swifte

Why should ordinary Brisbane residents attend the Brisbane City Council standing committees held at Brisbane City Hall each Tuesday when council is in session?

The short answer is: 

To witness the embarrassment of democracy that is on offer at this little piece of local government process.

The long answer is:

The BCC standing committees are chaired by the councilor responsible for particular areas of council operations. Standing committee chairs form Brisbane's 'Civic Cabinet'. Standing committee meetings are not minuted, but you can attend along with bureaucrats and local media.

I began attending the BCC Public and Active Transport committee just over 2 years ago. The first time I went along the BCC attendant told me I wasn't allowed to go to committee meetings, but I referred her to the council's own website, I was perhaps the first member of the public to attend. Since that time I have witnessed the occasional member of the public attend along with Translink Ripoff fans. The BCC have instituted new procedures, started a sign in book for visitors, provided numbered lanyards, and redefined a "banner" as any teeshirt that may bear a political slogan.

Cr Matic didn't like me wearing this teeshirt so he organised to have it banned.
I count myself lucky that I attended these committee meetings when I did because I got to witness a proper politician at work. Councilor Nicole Johnston used the few minutes left at each Public and Active Transport committee meeting after the unnecessarily long presentation to hold the chair Councilor Matic to account. Cr Johnston was highly effective, exposed Cr Matic's evasiveness and stonewalling, and was prepared to engage with the public. Cr Johnston, to her immense credit, was prepared to pitch questions that I would tweet to her, and made no secret of this fact. Now, in the first meetings of the Public and Active Transport committee attended only by LNP and ALP councilors, I see only a rubber stamping process.

Each week Cr Nicole Johnston would take the fight to Cr Matic.
I have made my presence at BCC committees as disruptive as possible without breaching behaviour guidelines. Just my presence has an impact on councilors who will use the stairs rather than be confronted by me in the elevator, and they will hush their voices when I enter the waiting room.

Cr Adrian Schrinner has taken over from Cr Matic

Any member of the public who has concerns about the way the BCC operates should try to attend the relevant committee. There are opportunities to speak with and tweet to jounalists and councilors, and to show that their embarrassing, rubber stamping process is being scrutinised.

Check here for details of BCC standing committees:

Check here for behaviour standards: