Noosa mayor Tony Wellington.
Noosa mayor Tony Wellington.

Democracy caught in a web: Noosa Mayor

THE recent media campaign titled “your right to know” saw newspapers across the country, including the Noosa News, lead with heavily redacted front pages.

The campaign raises extremely important questions for our democracy.

In part, the campaign also reflects the shrinking market for printed newspapers.

Unfortunately, the majority of Australians now get their news from social media, even though there is zero gate keeping to sort truth from fiction on these platforms.

Indeed, while the advent of the web has provided us with access to masses of information, it has simultaneously facilitated access to unlimited misinformation. And democracy may be the big loser, because the situation is being exploited by national governments.

It has been noted that, at the Australian federal level, 82 pieces of legislation have been added under the guise of national security since 2001.

The result is far greater opacity in political decision-making and growing strongarming by government of traditional media outlets.

This arguably reached a pinnacle with the federal police raids on journalists.

To reinstate trust in government, now is the time for government at all levels to be increasing not decreasing efforts at transparency.

In this regard, Noosa Council arguably stands as a frontrunner. Almost none of our agenda items are dealt with in confidential sessions.

The Organisation of Sunshine Coast Association of Residents (OSCAR) have noted that Noosa has held just 15 confidential sessions compared with the Sunshine Coast Council’s 199 confidential sessions during the current term.

While all statutory and committee meetings of Noosa Council have always been open to the public, we are now live streaming our ordinary and special meetings as well as our general committee meeting.

I have made a public commitment to make the next budget of the Council more consultative with our community, and we have introduced question time into our Ordinary Meetings, both of which have been flagged through the State’s Belcarra proposals for local government.

But democracy is suffering in another perhaps more oblique way that is associated with the rise of social media. Politicians today, including local councillors, are subject to torrents of daily abuse, of a kind and magnitude not historically witnessed.

So-called “keyboard warriors” – actually keyboard cowards in my view – are happy to spew vicious personal venom through their phones and computers, often writing things they would never dare say in a face-to-face setting.

This unfiltered bile on social media is hardly making a public role seem attractive.

Recently, a young father that I know determined he wanted to stand for election at another council.

But as soon as he made the announcement on social media, the abuse began. Within days he had decided not to stand.

We need to think hard as a society about how to better support those who wish to serve their communities as politicians.

If we don’t, then the only candidates will be hard-hearted career politicians.

We will always need good, compassionate, sensitive people in politics, not just political hardheads.

I personally think that we need more female candidates and more younger candidates so we get better representation through diversity.

But if we continue to tolerate abusive behaviour towards elected officials, we may struggle to ever achieve a range of political representatives that actually reflects our community.