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City gag order faces legal challenge - if it survives another week

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Adelaide City councillor Anne Moran says she will take the council to court – and ask for reimbursement for her legal fees – in the unlikely chance the council votes to keep a controversial gag rule in its standing orders.

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InDaily reported on Wednesday that the city council was set to overturn its newly-installed gag rule on elected members at Tuesday’s council meeting, with both Moran and Team Adelaide-affiliate Alexander Hyde lodging motions calling for the ruling to be removed.

The council’s dominant Team Adelaide faction and independent councillor Jessy Khera last week voted to impose the rule, which prohibits elected members from speaking to the media about their proposals before the publication of meeting agendas, after the council received legal advice confirming the rule was compliant with legislation.

The vote drew significant backlash from non-Team Adelaide councillors, as well as the public, the journalists’ union and former and current state MPs.

It is expected the council will vote in favour of overturning the ruling – with Lord Mayor Sandy Verschoor indicating she will use her casting vote in the chamber to pass either Moran or Hyde’s motion.

“The intention of these provisions within the standing orders was to ensure that all council members, the media and the community received information at the same time to support informed public debate and good governance,” Verschoor said in a statement.

“They were never intended to restrict any council member from discussing ideas with our community through the media and were definitely not a restriction on anyone’s freedom of speech.

“Unfortunately, these provisions have been misinterpreted and accordingly have only served as a distraction from the core business of council.

“Accordingly, I will now support the removal.”

Moran told InDaily yesterday she was still unsure how other members of Team Adelaide would vote, and in the unlikely chance that the council voted to keep the ruling, she would take the matter to the Magistrates Court.

“I think it needs to be tested in the Magistrates Court whether this is a legal move for council to do,” she said.

“The legal advice we received was what it was – legal advice – but you ask a few lawyers and you tend to get different legal advice and since that legal advice was made public some other lawyers have come out and said, ‘Hang on, that can’t be right’.

“I think it’s important enough, if it stays on the books, for it to be tested in court, because I’m pretty certain it’s not.”

Moran said she would wait until the council voted on Tuesday before taking any action.

She said she would ask the council’s acting CEO Clare Mockler to reimburse her legal costs, and if that request were rejected, she would ask for donations from the public.

“It’s a social justice issue, so I think the council should reimburse me,” she said.

“I think this is such an important one… to stop a politician from speaking to the press is a pretty big thing to do because people die for those sorts of rights.

“It’s what they do in Russia and totalitarian states – limit the access to the press – so when you break it down to that it’s a terrible thing to do.”

Former Local Government Minister Mark Brindal told InDaily last week the gag order would be “disallowed under the City of Adelaide Act”.

Moran breached standing orders earlier this week by providing InDaily with her written motion before the publication of next week’s meeting agenda, but she said yesterday that there had been “radio silence” from the council’s administration in response to her breach.

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