21-01 Transitioning back to in-person council and committee meetings and consultation on proposed changes allowing remote attendance at meetings
|Circular Details||21-01 / 9 March 2021 / A754070|
|Previous Circular||20-37 Status of special COVID-19 measures|
|Who should read this||Councillors / General Managers / All council staff|
|Contact||Council Governance / 02 4428 4100 / firstname.lastname@example.org|
|Action required||Council to Implement / Response to OLG|
|PDF Version||21-01 Transitioning back to in-person council and committee meetings and consultation on proposed changes allowing remote attendance at meetings|
What’s new or changing
- The “prescribed period” for the purposes of section 747A of the Local Government Act 1993 (the Act) during which the requirement for councillors and members of the public to attend meetings is satisfied if the meeting is held in whole or in part remotely using audio visual links, expires on 25 March 2021.
- The Government recognises that most councils have successfully implemented remote attendance by councillors at meetings by audio-visual link during the COVID-19 pandemic and that some councils have called for the option of remote attendance to be made available to them on an ongoing basis to encourage greater diversity of representation.
- The Office of Local Government (OLG) has issued a consultation paper, Remote Attendance by Councillors at Council Meetings, to seek the views of councils and others on proposed amendments to the Model Code of Meeting Practice for Local Councils in NSW (Model Meeting Code) to allow councils to permit individual councillors to attend meetings remotely by audio-visual link in certain circumstances. The proposed new provisions will not be mandatory, and councils will be able to choose whether to include them in their adopted codes of meeting practice.
- The consultation paper is available on OLG’s website at www.olg.nsw.gov.au. Submissions are due by COB 3 May 2021.
- While OLG is consulting on the proposed amendments to the Model Meeting Code, amendments will be made to the Local Government (General) Regulation 2005 (the Regulation) to allow councils to permit individual (but not all) councillors to attend meetings by audio-visual link. The amendments will be temporary and will expire on 31 December 2021. Further guidance will be provided on the interim arrangements when the Regulation amendment is made.
What this will mean for your council
- The Regulation will be amended while OLG consults on the proposed amendments to the Model Meeting Code to allow councils to give approval for individual (but not all) councillors to attend meetings remotely. The amendments will be temporary and will expire on 31 December 2021. The Regulation amendments will not allow whole councils to meet remotely by audio-visual link.
- Under the Regulation amendments, the decision to permit councillors to attend and participate in meetings remotely by audio-visual link will be one that is at each council’s discretion. Councils should only give approval for councillors to attend meetings by audio-visual link in exceptional circumstances, for example, because the councillor is prevented from attending the meeting due to illness, disability, carer responsibilities, a natural disaster or because the councillor is away from the local area on council related business.
- From 26 March 2021, councils will once again be required under section 10 of the Act to permit members of the public to attend meetings in person, subject to the requirements of any Public Health Order in force at the time and social distancing requirements. Councils can limit the number of members of the public attending meetings to comply with the Public Health Order and to ensure appropriate social distancing.
- As of 12 February 2021, the number of persons permitted to attend council and committee meetings in addition to councillors and staff under the Public Health (COVID-19 Restrictions on Gathering and Movement) Order 2021 (the Public Health Order) has been increased. Up to 25 persons may attend meetings. Councils can permit more than 25 persons to attend meetings provided the size of the meeting venue is sufficient to ensure there is at least 2 square metres of space for each person at the meeting venue. Councillors and council staff are not to be counted when calculating the space available for each person at the meeting venue and the number of persons who are attending a meeting.
- The number of persons permitted to attend meeting venues under the Public Health Order is the maximum permissible. Councils should continue to ensure appropriate social distancing is practiced at meetings and should undertake their own risk assessment of meeting venues and apply whatever COVID mitigation strategies may be necessary to ensure appropriate social distancing is practiced at meetings.
- Where councils are required to limit the number of members of the public attending meetings, they should consider livestreaming their meetings to ensure excluded members of the public can view them in real time.
- OLG is seeking the views of councils and others on the proposed amendments to the Model Meeting Code.
- If adopted by councils, under the proposed new provisions, councils will be able to give approval for individual councillors to attend a meeting remotely by audio-visual link where the councillor is prevented from attending the meeting because of ill health, disability, carer responsibilities, natural disaster or, on a limited number of occasions in each year, because they are absent from the local area due to a prior work commitment.
- The proposed new provisions will not be mandatory, and councils can choose whether to include them in their adopted codes of meeting practice.
- Submissions may be made to email@example.com, labelled ‘Remote attendance at council and committee meetings’ and marked to the attention of OLG’s Council Governance Team.
- Submissions should be made before COB 3 May 2021.
Where to go for further information
- More information on the current Public Health Order is available here.
- The Remote Attendance by Councillors at Council Meetings consultation paper is available on OLG’s website at www.olg.nsw.gov.au.
- Further guidance will be provided on the interim Regulations allowing councillors to attend meetings remotely once they are made.
- For further information please contact the Council Governance Team on 02 4428 4100 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Local Government, Planning and Policy