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City council votes to gag itself

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Adelaide City Council has voted to adopt an “unprecedented” new rule that prevents councillors from speaking to journalists about their proposals before the publication of meeting agendas.

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The majority of councillors – including Team Adelaide faction affiliates Houssam Abiad, Arman Abrahimzadeh, Alexander Hyde, Simon Hou, Mary Couros and Franz Knoll, and independent councillor Jessy Khera – last night voted to include the proposal in the council’s revised standing orders.

The vote came after the council received legal advice from KelledyJones lawyer Natasha Jones, which stated the proposal – likened to a “gag order” by some councillors – was compliant with state legislation.

“It is my advice that there is a clear, unfettered ability for the council to adopt the proposed policy position in its standing orders,” Jones wrote.

The council’s administration had attempted to keep the legal advice secret, until Deputy Lord Mayor Houssam Abiad successfully moved for the council to make Jones’ letter publicly available.

Area councillor Anne Moran, who opposed the rule, told last night’s meeting she would flout the new standing orders by continuing to speak to journalists about motions she intended to put forward.

“Anything that prevents a person from speaking is a gag order,” she said.

“I can tell the CEO now to line up the code of conducts.

“I will be racking up three or four code of conducts every council meeting, and you try and police that one.”

According to Jones, if councillors repeatedly failed to comply with the standing orders, the council would have the ability to refer the matter to a relevant authority – most likely the Ombudsman.

Moran and fellow councillor Phil Martin are now considering seeking advice to determine whether a legal challenge is possible.

Lord Mayor Sandy Verschoor, who supported the rule, said the council had no intention of restricting councillors from speaking to the media.

“What I’m asking is we follow a principle of good governance,” she said.

“This is about bringing the business of council back to the chamber, back to council.”

The vote comes after Flinders University political scientist Haydon Manning described the rule as “unprecedented in Australia” and akin to a “gag order”.

Law Society of SA president Amy Nikolovski also warned the rule should only be used “sparingly and for very good reason”.

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