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Convenor of The Clarence Forum lodges a petition with Clarence Valley Council last week. It asks the council to reveal where and how it spends its $580,000 advertising budget. Pic: Judy Myers

Forum campaigns against CVC’s ‘secrecy’

Convenor of The Clarence Forum lodges a petition with Clarence Valley Council last week. It asks the council to reveal where and how it spends its $580,000 advertising budget. Pic: Judy Myers
Convenor of The Clarence Forum lodges a petition with Clarence Valley Council last week. It asks the council to reveal where and how it spends its $580,000 advertising budget. Pic: Judy Myers

Online Facebook group, The Clarence Forum, has lodged a 147-signature petition demanding Clarence Valley Council (CVC) to ‘Stop The Secrecy, Tell Us The Truth [and] Tell us the amounts paid to The Independent, DEX, 2GF and related radio from CVC’s advertising budget”.
The group started the online petition in July 2015, following an operational decision by the council to withdraw its weekly block advertising from this newspaper, as part of the its review of services to meet the requirements of the state government’s Fit for the Future initiative.
The council’s advertising budget for 2015/16 is $580,000 – the council’s statutory financial reports show advertising costs for 2013/14 were $512,000, $520,000 in 2012/13 and $466,000 in 2011/12.
The Clarence Forum’s convenor, John Hagger, said he had been unsuccessful in gaining a breakdown of where or how the council spends its advertising budget.
Mr Hagger made a written request to CVC for the information in June 2015.
A council officer responded to the request on June 11, 2015, stating, in part, that work had “started to compile the information but it will take some time to complete … I would envisage having a formal response to you by the end of next week”.
Subsequent to this, Mr Hagger was advised on the telephone by the council’s corporate director, Ashley Lindsay, that the information would not be released.
In a letter accompanying the petition, which has been sent to the general manager, each of the councillors and Local Government Minister Paul Toole, Mr Hagger writes: “No reason has Ever been given for the refusal to release the report and the information it contains.”
Mr Lindsay is on annual leave until February 1.
Mr Hagger said that it was “incumbent on the council to reveal the expenditure details in line with the public interest test outlined in the NSW GIPA Act”.
The government’s fact sheet regarding the public interest test states: “Unless there is an overriding public interest against disclosure, agencies must provide the information.”
The public interest test involves three steps: Identify the relevant public interest considerations in favour of disclosure; identify the relevant public interest considerations against disclosure; and, determine the weight of the public interest considerations in favour of and against disclosure and where the balance between those interests lies.
Some of the considerations in favour of disclosure are: “Ensuring effective oversight of the expenditure of public funds; promoting open discussion of public affairs, enhancing government accountability or contributing to positive and informed debate on issues of public importance; and, revealing or substantiating that an agency (or a member of an agency) has engaged in misconduct or negligent, improper or unlawful conduct.”
“If you continue to refuse the release of the aforementioned report to the Public, please provide details of where the request has failed the Public Interest Test.”
Mr Hagger said he expects the petition to be tabled at the February council meeting.
This may be the last opportunity to lodge petitions collected electronically – the council is considering changes to how it deals with petitions.
This is being considered among other proposed changes to the council’s code of meeting practice, which is on exhibition until 4pm this Friday.

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