GANNAWARRA Shire Council has taken steps to ensure a higher level of confidentiality for councillors during briefing sessions.
In a regular review of council's policies, the Code of Conduct for elected members was updated to state that councillors will be required not to "quote or divulge to any third parties comments made by councillors at councillor briefings or councillor-only meetings."
The policy amendment was adopted by a margin of four to two. Cr Mark Arians called for a division of the vote and later, along with Cr Sonia Wright, voted against it.
Both councillors cited concerns about council's transparency, with reference made to the ongoing debate about council's stance in a failed attempt to establish a pilot training academy at Cohuna.
"I believe that we as councillors should be accountable and that we function better in an open and transparent environment," Cr Arians said.
"I feel that this motion is untimely and insensitive. The policy was only reviewed last year and we did not see a need at that time to amend our code of conduct or media [policies] and so I can only speculate, as the community will, that the reason for the change is due to recent events," he said.
Cr Wright raised similar concerns.
"I do believe we all have a right to speak freely and openly on any issue and that this information should not leave the chambers to be used against you. However, a council session should never be used as a forum to tell mistruths or un-factual statements to manipulate an outcome," she said.
"As long as the identity of the opinion does remain confidential, it shouldn't prevent fellow colleagues seeking clarification on the validity of said comments or statements, from external sources," she said.
The mayor, Cr Brian Gibson, who supported the policy, refuted the notion that it would compromise council's transparency as no decisions are made during briefing sessions because they were simply question and answer sessions.
"I fully understand the community is entitled to hear council's decision-making process," he said.
"Briefings are a time when questions can be asked. I don't understand why anyone would think anything in briefings would be legal or binding," he said.
"This [ordinary meeting] is when decisions are made," he said.
Cr Lorraine Learmonth also spoke in support of the policy. She expressed the belief that it would enable freer communication between councillors during briefings.
"This policy ... should have been in place all along; it's just been taken for granted all this year. It allows open dialect between councillors," she said.
Crs Jodie Basile and Steve Tasker agreed.
"I'm happy to support it," Cr Basile said.
"Over the last 12 months lots of things have gotten out that probably shouldn't have gotten out. It allows everyone to be honest and have their opinions," she said.
The other policy update adopted by council concerned public access to council policies. Citizens may inspect all of council's policies at the shire's Kerang and Cohuna offices or on the council website, www.gannawarra.vic.gov.au.