Removing the Lane Cove Council Public Forum From Before Council’s Monthly Meeting Not Permitted Unless the Public Comments on the Proposal

This article was originally published on 18 March 2024 as Lane Cove Council Monthly Monday Public Forum – Sucess, Failure or Farce?  This article has been updated after the Lane Cove Council March Ordinary Meeting on Thursday, 21 March 2024.

Monday Public Forum Trial

Lane Cove Council is currently trialling holding their Public Forum on Monday evenings during the week of a scheduled Ordinary Council Meeting to allow councillors sufficient time to transact business in the business papers.

The first Public Forum was held on Monday, March 18, 2024. It started at 7.00 pm and finished at 7.25 pm. Five people were in the public gallery, and only four speakers spoke.

The Public Forum is where members of the public can address the Council for a time limit of three (3) minutes per person (in person or virtually) on matters that are in the agenda papers or any other local matter.

It is not a forum for debate or response from Councillors.  However, Councillors can ask questions if they would like a point clarified.

Before March 2024, the Public Forum was held as part of the Monthly Ordinary Council Meeting, usually on a Thursday.

What are the Impacts of Lane Cove Council Moving the Public Forum?

Moving the Public Forum to Monday Night means:

  • Lane Cove Council has said that as it is not a council meeting, councillors are not required to attend;
  • Lane Cove Council senior staff are not at the meeting to note resident’s concerns or issues;
  • Residents only have a few days to review the agenda item and have limited time to assess the impact of a proposed council resolution;
  • It is not a council meeting; therefore, the Code of Meeting Practice does not apply.  The Code of Meeting Practice permits councillors to ask a question to seek clarification on an issue.
  • Lane Cove Council Meetings used to be on Monday night, and in 2022, the council resolved to move the ordinary meeting (which includes the public forum) to a Thursday Night to give both councillors and the public more time to review the business papers.

Is Council Permitted to Move the Public Forum?

The Lane Cove Council, at its February 2024 Meeting, resolved to separate the public forum from the Monthly Ordinary Meeting (usually held on the third Thursday of the Month). The public forum is now held on the Monday before the monthly council meeting.

Council business papers are usually published around 5:00 p.m. on Thursday of the week before the meeting. This month, however, they were posted and then, for some reason, taken down and reappeared later in the evening. Locals should be given sufficient time to read and review the business papers.

The Lane Cove Council Code Of Meeting Procedure sets out the agenda items that must be incorporated into every ordinary meeting. As the public forum is specified as being a mandatory inclusion, the Lane Cove Council must amend the Code of Meeting Practice, and the amendments must be published on their website for the community to make comments on the amendments as part of the community consultation process.  It is interesting to note that several of the councillors campagined at the last election (both Labor and the Independents) for a better community consultation process.

The Lane Cove Code of Meeting of Practices provides in Clause 8.1 as follows:

The public forum is listed as one of the items that must be included in a council meeting.  If it is not included in a council meeting, then any proposal to move the public forum must be made via a resolution to amend the Lane Cove Council Code Of Meeting Procedure, and the clause being amended should be listed.

If Lane Cove Council wanted to be flexible with public forums, it should have amended clause 8.1 as per the explanatory note in the Lane Cove Council Code Of Meeting Procedure.  


Extract from the Code of Conduct of Meeting Practice—The note warned councils that 8.1 (c) is prescriptive.


Legal Advice That Lane Cove Council Is Not Permitted to Change the Public Forum Without Amending the Code of Meeting Practice

In the Cove obtained legal advice from a barrister who noted the following:

“There is no provision in the LC Code for its amendment: cf LGA sec 363.

In my view, taking these elements into account:

  • The Council is at liberty to hold public forums on any day before a scheduled ordinary meeting;
  • However, by LC Code, cl 8.1, read with LGA sec 360(5), the Council is required to have a ‘Public Forum’ as part of the conduct of an ordinary meeting.
  • If the Council wants to vary this formula, it can do so for a ‘particular meeting’ but only where there has been a motion passed at that meeting, which in my view means not beforehand.

Given that LC Code does not contain any provision for its own amendment, amendment to the LC Code can only occur by adopting a ‘new’ code to that effect: LGA sec 363. Such an amendment has to comply with provisions relating to public notice and exhibition per LGA sec 361.

I am not aware of any such amendment to the LC Code.

Accordingly, the Council does not seem to have the power to abandon the practice of conducting a Public Forum in the course of an ordinary meeting, per LC Code cl 8.1.

Obviously, the Council can conduct public forums at other times as well as within the framework of an ordinary council meeting, but that forum cannot be relied upon in lieu of the Council holding a public form in the context of a meeting, per LC Code cl 8.1″

Office Of Local Government

The Office of Local Government (OLG) has advised ITC if there is a mechanism in the Code of Meeting Procedure that specifies when the public forum must be held and the order in the meeting, then the Code must be amended.  As per the legal advice ITC received, the OLG is of the view that before a council resolves to amend their Code of Meeting Practice, they must place the amendments on public exhibition, invite comments and consider those comments.

What Happened at the March 2024 Meeting?

Lane Cove Council stated that after becoming aware of ITC Legal advice, they then obtained their own legal advice on moving the public forum.  Their legal advice was that they were permitted to move the public forum.  However, they retrospectively moved a procedural motion that the public forum was to be on Monday Night (again, is this legal?).

Lane Cove Council had not obtained written legal advice before, they had only asked their lawyers for verbal advice.

A copy of ITC’s legal advice was sent to the General Manager by ITC before the meeting, but the General Manager did NOT circulate the legal advice to councillors).

Why Does Council Want to Move the Public Agenda

At the February 2024 meeting, the following was on the agenda.

Councillor and Staff Interaction Policy Update, Managing Psychosocial Hazards in the Workplace Procedure Information and Proposed Amendments to the Code of Meeting Practice Recommendation    

The purpose of this agenda item was to provide the Council with:

  • an update on the progress of the Draft Councillor and Staff Interaction Policy,
  • an insight into relevant documents as they relate to Work, Health and Safety generally and Managing Psychosocial Hazards in the Workplace more specifically, and
  • an outline of recommended amendments to the Council’s adopted Code of Meeting Practice.

The Lane Cove Council’s Officer report noted

“To ensure Council Meetings are run more effectively and efficiently and with the mental well-being of Councillors and staff foremost in mind, a number of changes are proposed to how Council Meetings are conducted:-.

  1. Reinstating the need for Councillors and staff to stand when speaking to better manage the flow and order of debate/discussion during Council meetings;
  2. Including a provision that limits public speakers to only speak once about a subject/item that is not on the published business paper agenda; and
  3. Move the Public Forum segment to another evening, separate from the Council Meeting (recommended to be the Monday evening before the Ordinary Council Meeting), to allow the Council sufficient time for Council to transact business as outlined in the published agenda. In recent council meetings there has been considerable time dedicated to the public forum and the debate generally which had seen meetings finishing after the 11:00pm mandated finish time. In most cases this included the bulk adoption of items which is not ideal in terms of Council wishing to adequately consider each matter. By separating the meeting and forum, adequate time will be available for both the Public Forum and the Council Meeting. Ku-ring-gai Council conduct their Council Meeting Public Forum on a separate day from their actual Ordinary Council Meeting.

The business paper stated:

“To give effect to items 1 and 2 above, Council will need to amend the Code of Meeting Practice while item 3 can be implemented simply by a resolution of Council, as the Code of Meeting Practice is not prescriptive.”

The mental health of Lane Cove Council staff is important.  However, other councils have addressed this problem by issuing extensive public forum rules and advising their residents that comments in the public forum must not be personal attacks on councillors or the staff.

What Rules Apply to the Public Forum?

In the Cove was unable to establish the rules apply to the trial Monday Night public forum.  Other councils that hold public forums on a different night than ordinary council meetings have rules on how the public forum will be run.

Ku-ring-gai Council – the same rules apply to the Code of Meeting Practice – read more here.

Central Coast Council has a Public Forum Policy document, which is an eight-page document drafted by Central Coast Council—Governance, Risk, Legal, and Corporate Affairs document – read more here.

Federation Council – the following is published on their website:

“Members of the public have the opportunity to address the Council prior to Ordinary and Extraordinary Council meetings. The forum allows for verbal submissions/presentations from community members on items of business to be considered at the meeting. Conditions are outlined in Council’s Code of Meeting Practice”.

Lane Cove Council – the following is published on their website and there is no reference to the rules that apply a forum (there is mention of rules that apply to a council meeting, however a separate public forum is not a council meeting).

Councils Must Ensure They Comply With Processes and Procedures

In the recent High Court Case of Redland City Council v Kozik & Ors [2022], QCA 158 councils were put on notice that they need to follow processes and procedures and be transparent with the ratepayers.   This is a Queensland Case, but it applies to any council in Australia.

Public Forums are Important for Local Democracy

When Andrew Zbik was Mayor, he would say that the public forum was an important avenue for residents to raise issues with all councillors in attendance.

ITC has always encouraged locals to attend public forums, have their say, and see democracy in action.

No Photographs Allowed

As this was the first time since ITC has been covering Lane Cove Council Meetings (nearly 12 years) that a public forum was being held at a different time than the monthly meeting, ITC sent a request to the Council as per the Code Of Conduct of Meeting Procedures asking to take a photo of the public forum and advising that we would seek the consent of any member of the public.

When ITC raised this at the public forum, the Mayor ruled quite emphatically that photos were not permitted. The request was not put to a vote of councillors, and other councillors’ views were not canvassed in the public forum. ITC is not sure why we were not permitted to take a picture.

No Technical Support at Trial Public Forum

The only council staff members to attend the first public forum meeting were the General Manager and the Minute taker. Usually, at a council meeting or council event where technology is used, the Director of Corporate Services and Strategy or another senior staff member is responsible for ensuring the smooth running of a meeting and responsible for handling technical issues.

One speaker was on Zoom, and there was a problem with the audio, which could not be fixed, so the speaker was called and asked to speak via the phone, which was then put through the microphones in the council chambers.  It was hard to hear the speaker.

What Are the Next Steps?

If Lane Cove Council wants to have a separate Public Forum they should:

  1. Resolve to amend the Code of Meeting Practice and seek public comment on the public forum being moved.
  2. Put in place a public forum policy that clearly outlines what is expected of the public.
  3. The mental health of staff in any organisation is important. However, to ensure that staff are not being put under undue pressure (like they would in a corporate situation), external factors, i.e., councillors (like board members), and management (executive office in corporate), must be reviewed. There should also be a review of resourcing to ensure staff are not under pressure due to inadequate resources and staffing levels.

Research last year by Mark ChouRachel Busbridge, and Serrin Rutledge-Prior found that most Australians expect more from their local councils than roads, rates, and rubbish, and they want them to discuss topics such as climate change.  Read more here.

They are the level of government that impacts us most in our daily lives, and a well-resourced and run council with appropriate procedures and processes can only benefit our community.

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