Council meeting moves online

Stay home: Latrobe City Council moved their Monday night July meeting online, due to disruptive behaviour from the public at past meetings. Photograph supplied



LATROBE Valley residents were not allowed to attend last Monday’s Latrobe City Council’s June meeting as the council had opted to go online.

The council’s Monday, June meeting was conducted entirely online following a decision to prioritise orderly proceedings over public viewing.

Council released a press release that stated the decision to move the council meeting to an online format had been taken after careful consideration of the circumstances. It had been made to ensure the orderly conduct of council proceedings and to provide an environment that fosters respectful dialogue and effective decision-making.

This decision comes after a wave of councils opted to go digital for public meetings due to security concerns. In February of this year, 100 people disrupted a Yarra Ranges council meeting, which needed police to defuse the situation. The Yarra Ranges council banned public galleries from meetings shortly after, and many other councils followed suit. The council instead live streams meetings.

Latrobe City alleges that over the past months, there have been instances of disruptive behaviour by members of the public attending council meetings.

The council said that while they encourage community engagement and value public participation, it was essential to maintain a conducive and respectful environment for all attendees, including councillors, council officers, and the community.

The online meeting is said to allow council business to proceed efficiently while upholding the principles of good governance.

Latrobe City is not the first council to opt for virtual meetings. Even the City of Greater Geelong in 2022 fought to have the option of staging virtual meetings to be permanent, citing health and efficiency grounds.

The move is allowed under security provisions in the Local Government Act 2020, which provides for a meeting to be open to the public by broadcasting the meeting live on the council’s internet site.

The arrangement to allow councillors to attend council meetings virtually was put in place by the state government as part of the pandemic orders and ended on 1 September last year. Many local municipalities were forced to have online meetings during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Latrobe City Council says it remains committed to transparency and accessibility. It says live streaming of a council meeting is in accordance with council’s obligations under the Act and council’s governance rules, and ensures that the community and stakeholders can stay informed about council decisions and discussions.

Council’s governance rules still allow for individuals to participate in council meetings virtually for those members of the public who wish to speak on a specific agenda item.

In the press statement, Latrobe City Council said it was committed to engaging respectfully with the community by creating an “inclusive and harmonious environment where everyone’s voice is heard”.

Cr David Clark, the former president of local government’s peak body, the Municipal Association of Victoria, said there had been a rise in disruptive public behaviour and civil unrest.

“This ongoing behaviour is threatening and unpredictable, and it has no place in our communities and shouldn’t be accepted at any level of government or board. Councils are right to take a zero-tolerance approach, as the people most at risk are other community members who are in the gallery with the disruptive people,” he said.

“Closing galleries also does not remove the opportunity for public questions of the council, these are still available to residents, all be it in a slightly different manner (online).

“We expect any council in the situation of having to close their public gallery will regularly review this and seek to return to in-person galleries at council meetings as soon as it is safe to do so,” Cr Clark added.

Voices of the Valley president, Wendy Farmer, said the council had a duty to hold public meetings. “The council have a duty to the community to hold public meetings and make them accessible to the public,” she said.

“To see emotions from the public galley is not a bad thing. I think it’s a good thing; we got to be able to understand how people internally feel; by giving a clap or whatever; that’s what they’re passionate about; that’s not a security risk.”

Ms Farmer said the community behaved better than most elected federal members in parliament sittings.

“Let’s compare it to watching parliament behave; I think our community behave even better than our federal government when there’s a sitting in the House,” she said.

The Voices of the Valley president warned that online meetings have the potential to isolate the council from the community.

“It really just cuts off so many people in our community, but it also cuts off connection in our community.

“By excluding the public from the gallery, it does not give access to the councillors because often councillors have the opportunity to go and speak to people when they are in the gallery and listen to concerns.

“It also separates the community. I’ve been in public meetings where I’ve learnt from other people about issues that I might have never known.”

Ms Farmer also expressed concern over accessibility issues regarding online meetings.

“It could stop people from participating in council meetings because they don’t want to talk over Zoom. It’s too hard, and not everybody can access it, especially our older generations … you also have those who can’t afford it, that don’t even have a computer.”

Council said that a decision to reopen the public gallery would be reviewed in the coming months after the assessment of appropriate measures to enable respectful dialogue and effective decision-making.

Ms Farmer remains hopeful that the council will “reconsider that type of thinking and embrace the engagement of the gallery”.

Details regarding the live stream and access to the online meeting will be provided on the council’s website at and social media on