Wodonga Council has shelved plans to broadcast their meetings via the internet out of fears of being sued and rising insurance premiums

Out of the frame: Wodonga Council has decided to shy away from live streaming its meetings. Wangaratta Council uses iPads to broadcast its monthly gatherings.
Out of the frame: Wodonga Council has decided to shy away from live streaming its meetings. Wangaratta Council uses iPads to broadcast its monthly gatherings.

LEGAL fears have prompted Wodonga Council to drop plans to increase transparency by live streaming monthly meetings.

Five out of seven councillors backed the status quo, rather than follow Albury, Alpine, Indigo and Wangaratta councils into webcasting.

Only Tim Quilty and Kat Bennett dissented, despite the council being widely criticised for a lack of openness during last year’s election campaign.

Councillor Danny Lowe admitted he had championed live streaming, but he was concerned at a lack of legal protection.

“I’m not willing to open myself up to litigation and the financial implications it may have on myself and my family if I was to make a statement or a slip of the tongue that was taken in the wrong context,” Cr Lowe said.

Councillor Libby Hall said she did not believe “going live gives the community any more transparency”.

Councillor Ron Mildren said it was a “vexed question” for him considering he stood on a platform of greater transparency.

However, he cited the legal opinion of Perth firm McLeods Barristers and Solicitors, which argued against it, and flagged the likelihood of insurance premiums rising due to the risks of webcasting.

“I think it’s unfair on the ratepayers to do it for the limited benefit in terms of transparency and accountability that we get in return,” Cr Mildren said.

But Cr Quilty said the risks of live streaming had been overstated in the briefing given to councillors.

“There are dozens, or perhaps hundreds, of councils around Australia that have already moved to live streaming and it’s working fine,” Cr Quilty said.

“I haven’t heard of anyone being sued, so I think it’s quite exaggerated.

“People who vote...yes to this, the status quo, to me are sending out the message that they don’t want people to watch what we do.”

Mayor Anna Speedie took offence at Cr Quilty’s comment.

“If we didn’t want people to know what we do then we wouldn’t be out talking to our community from 7am to 9pm nearly everyday for the last two months,” Cr Speedie said.

“I’m actually quite affronted by that comment.”

Cr Bennett wants the matter revisited in 12 months and hopes the city may learn from Albury Council, which will start live streaming at its meeting on Monday.

“Hopefully some of those risks that we have mentioned can be mitigated so we can be more informed and also learn from the experiences of the councils around us who are doing this,” Cr Bennett said.