Former Mayor, Jane Smith, says denial of access to information not fair

Suspended Central Coast councillors have no access to their Council laptops

Suspended Central Coast Councillor and former Mayor, Jane Smith, said councillors have their hands tied in trying to make effective submissions to the public inquiry into Council, with no access to electronic devices used during their tenure.

With no success achieved in making a plea to Administrator Rik Hart at the May 25 meeting requesting access, Smith said the process of applying for information under the Government Information (Public Access) Act 2009 (GIPA) process was “completely unworkable”.

“This inquiry will be looking at decision making during the councillors’ term, but we have no way to access information which informed our decision making,” she said.

“We had to hand in all electronic devices, including our laptops containing calendars, emails, details of briefings and so on, as well as our phones.

“I have notes (made at the time) but that won’t be sufficient.

“We are now treated like residents re getting information and that is completely unworkable.”

Smith said the time for receiving information via the GIPA process could take weeks.

“And when they do respond they might answer one thing then you might think of something else you wanted to ask – and you have to lodge another GIPA request,” she said.

“If you’re asking for information involving someone else, they have to go to that person and get approval.

“It is not a fair and reasonable approach – its (not in the interests of) natural justice or procedural fairness.

“I would like to see some ability to supply councillors with laptops so they can access the Hub, which is where a lot of information was stored.

“It is essential for councillors to respond to this inquiry.

“The Commissioner will also have absolute discretion to decide if what is put forward is relevant and that is another concern.”

Smith said while she did not have a full grasp on the terms of reference for the inquiry, she was concerned that it would mostly centre on Council matters from 2017 onwards.

“The problems began well before 2017,” she said.

Smith also claimed former Administrator Dick Persson had “overstepped his remit” in writing to Local Government Minister Shelley Hancock recommending that suspended councillors should not be eligible to stand at the next election, expected to be late next year.

“I feel the Administrator made unilateral recommendations which undermine our democracy,” she said.

“It was not his role to limit who people should vote for.

Smith said she was concerned that the current administration appeared to have effectively taken out any action on climate change.

“It is staggering that current staff now appear to be ignoring doing anything meaningful in that area,” she said.

Interview, May
Suspended Councillor Jane Smith