Attempt to gag free speech defeated

Issue 

People reading the October 22 Age were alarmed to discover that the Victorian Labor government had proposed legislation banning local councillors from voting on issues if they had made a submission relating to that issue, such as local development or planning changes.

The legislation would deem the councillor to have a conflict of interest and they would be prevented from voting or face an $11,000 fine.

The bill passed the state's lower house with the support of the Coalition parties. Many people weren't aware that the bill was being considered until it reached the upper house.

Residents' groups campaigning against greedy developers are fielding candidates in the coming local council elections. The new law would have prevented any such councillor who was elected from voting on the platform that they had been elected on!

Opponent of the St Kilda triangle site redevelopment, and a candidate in the Port Phillip council elections, Serge Thomann told the Age: "You expect the people that are going to run for council are those with views and passion about their communities, so they are obviously more likely to have made a submission to their local council."

Eighty people, some with black tape over their mouths symbolising the free-speech gag implicit in the legislation, protested in front of Parliament House on October 28.

By raising the spectre of "conflict of interest", the government is manipulating a strong community concern about politicians with a financial interest in the outcome of a vote being able to influence the vote. However, this is entirely different to a councillor who had previously lodged an objection as a result of being involved in a community campaign against such a development.

Community outrage prompted the Coalition to reverse its position and instead support a Greens amendment to the bill, which removed that particular section.

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