The council’s standing orders – adopted last month – state elected members must not “behave in an improper or disorderly manner” while participating in a meeting.
The orders define “improper or disorderly” behaviour as being “contrary to public order or morality”, in accordance with a Macquarie Dictionary definition.
The dictionary also defines the word “morality” as “in accordance with the rules of right conduct”, “sexual virtue; chastity”, or “moral quality or character”.
In its previous standing orders – adopted in 2014 – the council did not define the meaning of “improper or disorderly” behaviour, thereby avoiding mention of the word “morality”.
But the council now maintains that “this definition would apply whether incorporated in the standing orders or not”, despite admitting it is not aware of any other local, state or federal government that explicitly defines disorderly behaviour as being immoral.
The definition has angered area councillor Anne Moran, who told InDaily her behaviour could regularly be considered “immoral” by some people.
“If you whack a morality clause in there (the standing orders), gee whiz I’ll be in trouble all the time,” she said.
“What are we talking about here? Are we talking about Christian morality?
“Morality isn’t something that is set in stone and you could ask ten different people what morality means and you would get ten different answers.”
At last night’s council meeting, Moran – who has already received one code of conduct complaint this term – asked the council’s administration to define the term “contrary to public order or morality”.
She also asked the council to explain the origin of the clause within its standing orders.
In its tabled response, the council said the clause supported State Government policy as defined by the Local Government (Procedures at Meetings) Regulations.
“As the regulations do not include an interpretation (definition) of what is considered improper or disorderly behaviour, the plain meaning rule applies where in the absence of a specific definition being provided in the legislation then the plain, ordinary and literal meaning is applied,” the response says.
“The definition incorporated in the standing orders was therefore obtained from the Macquarie Dictionary and the definition of the adjective ‘disorderly’ includes the words ‘contrary to public order or morality’.
“The definitions in standing order 259.1 and 259.2 (the related sections) were added to the draft standing orders in 2016 to assist members with the interpretation of section 29(1) of the regulations.”
In response to questions from InDaily, the council’s governance manager Rudi Deco said the inclusion of the word “morality” in the standing orders was first flagged in 2016 but not formally adopted until last month.
Moran told last night’s meeting the response provided by the council did not assist her with the interpretation of the regulations.
“The answer in no way answers the question,” she told the chamber.
“I actually wanted a definition of the word morality.”
Moran said she would lodge another question at the next council meeting calling on the council’s administration to define its understanding of the term.
She said if she was not satisfied with the definition provided by the administration she would move that the council revoke the clause from its standing orders.
Deco told InDaily it was up to the presiding member – usually the Lord Mayor – to “maintain order and proper conduct” in the chamber.
“There are detailed processes in place, including the requirement for a formal resolution, for a council member to be censured or suspended for improper or disorderly conduct,” he said.
Asked why she is raising her concerns about the “morality clause” now and not before the council voted to adopt the standing orders last month, Moran said it was a “strategic decision” as she did not want to take attention away from the gag order controversy.
That debate hindered on a now-revoked clause that restricted elected members from speaking to the media about their motions before the council published its meeting agendas.
Moran was a vocal opponent to the rule, claiming it restricted her right to free speech.
The vote to adopt the standing orders came at a turbulent time for the council, with factional tensions within the chamber leading to name-calling, a corridor confrontation and a code of conduct complaint.
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