Newspaper article Daily News (Warwick, Australia)

{Council's Secret Smoko Business} {A Confidential Cuppa Behind Closed Doors}; {after Media Are Given an Official Letter of Banishment, One May Wonder Just What Is:} {Sorry Journos, You'll Have to Step out of the Meeting Room So Our Councillors Can Enjoy:}

Newspaper article Daily News (Warwick, Australia)

{Council's Secret Smoko Business} {A Confidential Cuppa Behind Closed Doors}; {after Media Are Given an Official Letter of Banishment, One May Wonder Just What Is:} {Sorry Journos, You'll Have to Step out of the Meeting Room So Our Councillors Can Enjoy:}

Article excerpt

Byline: JEREMY SOLLARS

SECRET council business on the Southern Downs and Granite Belt has taken a whole new turn, with journalists now officially banned from morning and afternoon tea breaks at council meetings.

The edict to media outlets is contained in a letter from Southern Downs Regional Council chief executive officer (CEO) Rod Ferguson, with councillors understood to have called for it unanimously.

Previously, media representatives were free to mingle informally with elected representatives during "smoko" breaks between sittings of council committees and the general council meetings in both Warwick and Stanthorpe.

Lunch breaks have traditionally been a private affair, but Mr Ferguson's polite-but-firm letter makes it clear such familiarity is no longer to be the norm, adding tea breaks to the growing list of council discussions held behind closed doors.

In his letter the CEO states that "over time there have been no clear guidelines for (media) regarding whether to join members for morning tea, afternoon tea and lunch breaks".

"In discussing this matter recently council members have asked me to advise you that in future your staff will be required to move out of the meeting/committee room during those breaks," Mr Ferguson said. "This will allow members to openly discuss issues in an informal manner, whether those issues be council-related or of a private nature.

"There will be occasions where the chairperson of the meeting may invite your staff to join with members and again on those occasions they will be welcome to do so."

Council sources have said the new policy stems mainly from concerns with meeting facilities in the former Stanthorpe Shire Chambers, where council meetings are held in alternate months and where members of the public sitting in the gallery have in the past lingered with media during breaks.

Despite this, the blanket ban on media will apply to meeting rooms in both towns.

Former Warwick Shire Councillor Cec Watts said yesterday he sympathised with serving councillors, saying smoko breaks were a rare and welcome opportunity to speak privately with colleagues. …

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