TOUGH new municipal powers will allow mayors to kick out troublesome councillors from meetings, winning support from some south-west civic leaders.
Under a three-strike system, local government leaders can warn councillors if they deem their behaviour is counter-productive, before being able to kick them out of the meeting if the situation deteriorates.
Warrnambool mayor Michael Neoh broadly supports the new policy in the interests of good governance while city councillor Peter Hulin claims the move will stifle democratic debate.
Local Government Minister Jeanette Powell outlined the new measures to municipal delegates assembled for a weekend conference in Melbourne.
In a strongly-worded speech, she said the new legislation would be instrumental in raising the standard of councillor behaviour.
“In the past, some councillors have thought they can get away with unruly, disrespectful and inappropriate behaviour during council meetings. This must stop,” Mrs Powell said.
“Council meetings are for important discussion and decision-making and cannot afford to be marred by inappropriate councillor behaviour, as has been the case in some municipalities.”
Cr Neoh said the new measures would enhance civility in council chambers statewide but believed any mayor should exercise their powers cautiously.
“Anything that strengthens good governance is a step forward, as long as all mayors follow proper process,” he said.
“There’s been a decline in debate in our federal and state parliaments in recent times, where things have been more heated than need be. That’s also been a factor for some councils.”
Cr Hulin opposes the new measures and says it places too much power in the mayoral chair.
“It’s a backward move,” he said. “When you get a mayor who’s a narcissist or a dictator, you’re in deep trouble, because debate is stifled as a result.
“I was cleared after being accused of a breach of code of conduct, thankfully, because the proper processes were in place. Imagine if a mayor has the power to kick councillors out of a meeting without any reason, just because they feel like it.”
Glenelg Shire mayor John Northcott welcomed the new rules but said behaviour in Portland’s council chambers was generally polite and civilised.
“Gee whiz, it’s a pretty strong power to have but it might come in handy for some councils,” he said.