I also said in the report that I hoped this impression was just a misreading on my part.
We already know Cr Rob Mills is likely to vote against the idea of live-streaming meetings. While I don’t agree with his reasoning around social media, I do respect that he has been completely upfront about his intentions.
But what this means is the Liberal councillors will have the decisive vote on whether or not Camden residents will be able to tune into Council meetings online.
The fact that I walked away from that meeting feeling that they would oppose live-streaming has been niggling at me all week, so I went back to my notes to work out why I felt this way.
In all three cases we heard variations of the dreaded phrase that seems to precede every good idea that enters politics which elected representatives want to shut down, “I agree with it in principle, but… “
It may be that they were being cautious, which is why I gave them the benefit of the doubt in the meeting report. And the phrase, I agree in principle… ” by itself is not enough to make me think that streaming may be all over before it has started.
So, what was it?
On reading the notes it quickly became clear it had to do with the contrast between how the councillors approached the idea.
The Labor councillors and Eva Campbell fully supported live-streaming and looked for ways to move it forward. The approach was, we can do this because many other councils are streaming meetings, so how do we make it work for Camden?
By contrast, in every case the Liberal councillors looked at the problems first despite the “support in principle” phrase that opened every response.
If you want to let Camden Council know that you would like to see Council meetings streamed live and then placed online for future reference, visit Camden Council’s website and go to the Your Say page to let them know.
- The legal ramifications for staff members who would be filmed and the issues around consent.
- Cost factors
- How many people would watch the meetings.
- The claim that some councils started and then stopped streaming meetings and the reasons for this.
So let’s look at the issues to see if they are reasonable concerns and whether they can be resolved.
Clearly, other councils have addressed the legal ramifications around staff. Even if filming staff was an issue, it is quite possible to film a Council meeting without putting staff in frame.
If this is a genuine concern then the obvious solution is to arrange the recording of Council meetings so no staff members appear on camera.
However, considering Council staff are already on public display, with nameplates telling us exactly who they are, it would be surprising if the same staff members somehow expected anonymity just because meetings are being recorded.
Cost factors should be weighed against the importance of transparency in council business and the fact that the Council’s bottom line has been getting stronger every year.
Wollondilly’s General Manager said in the media the set-up cost for live streaming its meetings was $7000. The ongoing cost is $1000 a month according to a well-placed source in Wollondilly Council and this cost includes full downloads of meetings and the division into smaller videos to match the minutes. It makes Wollondilly’s streaming page one of the most impressive of any council I have seen. Have a look at the latest meeting page here.
By this measure, if set-up and ongoing costs exceed $20,000 for Camden Council then Council officers can chat to Wollondilly Council to source additional quotes.
How many residents would watch Council meetings?
The smaller council of Wollondilly had 396 live views for its first meeting and another 96 residents came to watch later, according to a story in the Macarthur Chronicle. According to Camden Council officers the current average capacity of Camden Council chambers is 70-80 people, although this can be increased if the Council knows in advance that more residents are coming.
My experience in Council meetings is that audience numbers vary according to what is being discussed but seldom get to even half of the capacity of the chamber. The last two meetings were relatively quiet because they were primarily administrative but I suspect quite a few residents would have watched the February 14 meeting.
Some meetings might also bring up issues that weren’t obvious in the minutes prior to the meeting and lead to more residents wanting to view them after the event.
What we can estimate judging by the Wollondilly experience is that more people will check out the meetings than can currently fit in the Council chambers. That, right there, is a win for democracy and transparency.
Other councils started and then stopped streaming meetings.
I can’t find any published evidence of this online and an expert in this area claimed that he had heard anecdotal evidence to this effect but had not seen anything confirmed.
If true, I would love to find any information about it online, so we can explore the reasons.
There is some resistance to streaming from Clover Moore’s majority at City of Sydney Council, which is being treated by ALP and Liberal councillors as an outrage, and rightfully so. You can bet that will become a thorn in the side of the Lord Mayor.
In short, when I look over the notes my concerns of resistance by Liberal councillors to the idea of live streaming probably relate to how they approached the issue at the outset more than anything explicit. Certainly the concerns they raised seem minor and easily dealt with.
I still struggle to see that there is any good reason for not streaming meetings. Clearly an increasing number of other councils have overcome the issues raised by our councillors.
Most importantly, live streaming takes us to the heart of what transparency and good democracy is all about.
I remain very hopeful that sometime in the next 12 months we may see Camden Council meetings streamed and saved online for residents to view later.
It would certainly be disappointing if the Liberal councillors did refuse this opportunity for transparency. If some councillors did block live-streaming, Camden residents would have every right to ask what it is they are trying to hide.
Without being able to witness to the meeting itself when the debate around live-streaming comes back to the Council, residents could easily jump to conclusions about the motives of those who opposed its introduction. They might reach decisions based entirely on councillor's voting patterns, the unreliable memories of others at the meeting, supposition about political corruption and unhealthy gossip.
That would be a terrible way for residents to make decisions about the motives of our local representatives and how they conduct themselves. In itself that is yet another good reason why we should allow as many residents as possible to see Council meetings, either in the chamber or over the internet.
Let's hope when this comes back to the Council for review, (pun intended) the eyes have it.