Lisa Cox August 09, 2012
The Gungahlin Community Council has ordered its executive members to seek approval before talking to media about issues relating to race or religion.
But the council has denied it is trying to gag its members following controversy over the Gungahlin mosque development.
A motions was passed by the council at its meeting last month that executive members not talk to media about ''contentious'' issues, particularly those involving religion, race or culture. The policy states that any public comment should be approved by a vote at a formal meeting.
But president Ewan Brown said the council was not preventing its executive from talking to media without approval and its new rules would only apply in certain circumstances.
''It's mainly on issues of a sensitive nature - mainly issues involving race, religion, that sort of ilk,'' he said.
''I'm trying to put some boundaries around the things we get involved in.''
Mr Brown said he wanted the council to ensure any public comment it made related to community planning issues.
The executive wanted to avoid ''polarising'' the community, which he believed had happened to a degree during debate about the mosque development.
''I think there were people who thought they would be marginalised if they expressed a view against it,'' he said.
Last month, the council posted a statement on its website stating The Valley Avenue site was appropriate for the mosque and that ''concerns about traffic will prove unfounded once the proposed ring road system is completed.''
Mr Brown said there would still be occasions where executive members spoke to media without seeking approval from the council first.
''I'm just trying to put in train a process where we can get feedback from the committee or the community before making comment so that we have a more cohesive organisation,'' he said.
''I've made comment to journalists on some issues since it [the policy] was passed, without it going to a vote first.''
The council's planning and development officer, Michael Norfor, said the policy was not about gagging members from speaking publicly.
''It's just another level of protection to ensure that people who speak on behalf of the council express the council's views,'' he said.
''We are still more than happy to talk to people.'' In June a flyer was distributed to Gungahlin residents, urging them to oppose the mosque development on The Valley Avenue because of its ''social impact'' and concerns about traffic and noise, ''public interest'' and size.
The authors of the flyer identified themselves as the Concerned Citizens of Canberra.
The ACT Government referred the flyer to the Human Rights Commissioner, who last week ruled the pamphlet had probably not breached the ACT's Discrimination Act.