The video below is a recording of the Webinar that ran on 24 February. It focused on the following key areas:
- Knowing how to use the rules (Standing Orders/Meeting Procedures);
- Keeping order and setting the tone of the meeting;
- Acting as a servant of the meeting;
- Being impartial;
- Processing the business through the meeting;
- Dealing motions and amendments; and
- Dealing with points of order.
To open this video in fullscreen please put your cursor over the right corner of this video and select 'open in new window'.
To download the webinar video for offline playback click here.
To download the PowerPoint presentation from this webinar please click here.
What Went Wrong?
There were a number of things that went wrong in the Shire of Dystopia Council Meeting shown in the webinar above. How many did you notice?
For a full description of what went wrong click here.
Question and Answer Session
The following are a range of questions asked during and after the Chairing of Meetings Webinar held by WALGA on 22:
What if the mover of a substantive motion agrees to an amendment? Does it not need to be voted on?
A mover and seconder can agree to alter the wording of a substantive motion. This normally only occurs where a minor amendment is made that improves the clarity and understanding of the intent of the substantive motion; this is known as wordsmithing. Any other proposal to change a substantive motion should progress to an amendment motion.
If it is the Chair who has contravened standing orders, what can be done?
Any Elected Member present at a meeting can raise a point of order. The Chair has the same obligation as all members of Council to observe the Standing Orders.
Is it a point of order if the Chair is continually indicating preference for particular vote and interrupting with own position and controlling the debate?
As indicated in the Webinar, the Chair has an obligation to observe Standing Orders. There is no provision in Standing Orders for commentary or summing up by the Chair, therefore it would be appropriate for a point of order to be raised in this circumstance.
Please clarify what interruption is allowable during debate.
An Elected Member may only interrupt a debate to propose an amendment motion, raise a point of order or a procedural motion.
Interrupting for any other reason would therefore result in a point of order being raised.
In question time, can a member of the public ask further questions after the reply is given? If so, how many ongoing questions can the member of the public ask?
Many Standing Orders Local Laws (including the WALGA template) include a process for public question time that limits, in the first instance, a person to asking 2 questions. It is then for each Council to decide whether to extend public question time beyond the statutory minimum timeframe of 15 minutes (Regulation 6(1) Local Government Administration Regulations) should there be an extensive number of questions.
Does the mover of the substantive motion have to agree with an amendment for the amendment to be approved?
No, the mover of the substantive motion has no rights in this regard as it would amount to a power to veto an amendment motion.
Is the Chair within their rights to publicly admonish a Councillor for not circulating an amendment before the meeting or should the admonishing have taken place privately?
If a Local Government has adopted a procedure for tabling a proposed amendment motion then a Chairperson would be within their rights to remind an Elected Member if this procedure was not followed.
Does a mover of an amendment have the right of reply in the debate?
This will depend upon your Local Government’s Standing Orders; as an example, the WALGA template Standing Orders permits the right of reply for the mover of an amendment motion.
What are the pros and cons of not debating a motion after it has been established that no-one wishes to speak against it? There has been some suggestion that the gallery is left with no understanding of the reasons for the vote.
It is conventional practice for an item of business on the Council agenda to progress to its conclusion by the swiftest means possible; this is referred to in Standing Orders as ‘unopposed business’ or ‘adoption by exception’ and the Chair may progress unopposed business straight to a vote by show of hands. A unanimous vote on an item of business, coupled with information provided in the Agenda, will usually satisfy a public gallery that the Council is supportive of a proposal.
Standing Orders usually prevent an adoption by exception resolution from applying to matters:
- That requires an absolute majority or special majority;
- In which an interest has been disclosed;
- That has been the subject of a petition or deputation;
- That is a matter on which a Member wishes to make a statement; or
- That is a matter on which a Member wishes to move a motion that is different to the recommendation.
If the Presiding Member allows a Council member to make a statement rather than debate for or against, is this a point of order issue?
Standing Orders Local Laws do not normally allow for a statement while an item of business is under debate. Any involvement would therefore fall into one of the following categories:
- For the motion;
- Against the motion;
- Exercising right of reply;
- Moving an amendment to the motion;
- Asking a question or seeking clarification;
- Making a personal explanation;
- Raising a point of order; or
- Raising a procedural motion.
Regarding order of call in debate, after mover and seconder have spoken, one speaker against, no more in favour - should the chair allow further speakers against?
The Chairperson may exercise discretion if it is apparent that a greater number of Elected Members wish to speak either for or against a motion.
What if a point of order is raised and the Chair dismisses it, what can a Councillor do?
A Chairperson’s ruling on a point of order will stand unless there is a motion of dissent, which if carried by the meeting will have the effect of reversing the Chair’s ruling.
Bear in mind also, that Standing Orders will set out the matters for which a point of order may be raised. This is usually the meeting procedures themselves, or any other written law. A Chair can therefore dismiss any point of order that is not within the power of the meeting to determine.
Whose role is it to declare a conflict of interest?
It is always the role of the individual Elected Member to declare a financial, indirect financial, proximity or impartiality interest. A person cannot be compelled by others to make such a declaration, and is responsible for any consequence arising in the event of a failure to declare.
Did you know? WALGA Training have developed a Conflicts of Interest eLearning course that looks at this area in depth.
If a gallery member makes a statement against an Elected Member and the wording is excessive and/or offensive can the Presiding Member dismiss the gallery member?
The Presiding Member is empowered under a Standing Orders Local Laws to maintain order at a Council or Committee meeting and may ultimately, albeit rarely, expel a member of the public from a meeting. Controls normally appearing in Standing Orders include:
- Requesting that mobile phones and electronic devices are turned off;
- Ensuring that no person records the conduct of a Council meeting without first obtaining permission;
- Calling the order of questions asked during public question time;
- Asking a person to refrain from the use of intemperate language or casting adverse reflection upon any member of the Council or the Local Government;
- Calling a person to order if they interrupt or interfere with the orderly conduct of a meeting;
- Giving a formal warning to a person if they breach the rules of the meeting or a direction of the Presiding Member; and
- Expel a member of the public for continued breach of rules or directions.
If the Chair falls ill during a meeting, what happens?
Standing Orders permit the Deputy Presiding Member (i.e. Deputy Mayor or President) to take the chair if the Presiding Member cannot continue in a meeting. The same situation applies in a Committee meeting, where the elected Deputy Chairperson will take the running of the meeting.
Can there be debate during discussion of an item at a Briefing Session?
The Department of Local Government and Communities Guideline No 5 informs that briefing sessions, or forums, are convened to allow Elected Members to ask questions and be informed on items included a Council Agenda. The Guideline states “there should be no opportunity for a collective Council decision or implied decision that binds the Local Government to be made during a forum”.
Remember that debating is directly related to the legal decision-making process of Council, and decisions are not made at briefing sessions or forums. Any actual evidence or perception of debate occurring at briefing sessions can only damage the public standing of the Council in the eyes of its community.
Can the Chair end a meeting because they aren't happy with the debate, and if they do and leave the meeting can the Deputy open the meeting again?
Standing Orders do not empower the Presiding Member to unilaterally close a meeting of Council for the reason set out in the question. In addition, any attempt to adjourn a meeting prior to the conclusion of the business set down in the agenda requires a mover, seconder and decision of the Council. In the absence of the Presiding Member, the Deputy takes the Chair to ensure the business of Council continues through to its conclusion.
Do all Councillors have to vote when a motion is unopposed?
It is a requirement of Section 5.21(2) of the Local Government Act that each Council member, and each committee member of a committee with delegated powers, is to vote unless they have declared an interest that requires them to leave the meeting. The Chair should satisfy themselves that all members present have complied with the requirements of the Local Government Act when conducting voting procedures.
If a Councillor leaves the room should we wait for them to return before we go to vote?
There is no requirement for a meeting to await the return of an Elected Member who is not present at the time the vote is taken.
Often the Chairperson is a knowledgeable community member. Is it appropriate for the Chair to comment at the conclusion of a debate but prior to voting, even if they are invited to do so?
No. Standing Orders simply do not permit the Chairperson a right to make comment in this way and therefore they should decline to comment even if invited to do so.