NEW ERA: The newest instalment of the Sunshine Coast Council, elected on March 19, gathered at the Caloundra chamber.
NEW ERA: The newest instalment of the Sunshine Coast Council, elected on March 19, gathered at the Caloundra chamber.

Right to know: Councillors reveal stance on press freedom

>> State MPs hold dear the rights to free press

>> When governments hide the truth, what are they covering up?

A NUMBER of Coast councillors have weighed in on the press freedom debate sparked by a national campaign by major media outlets to boost transparency in all tiers of government.

Division 6 Councillor Christian Dickson said he believed the media had every right "to report on what is true and factual".

"They should not be penalised or restricted from doing so," he said.

He said he engaged directly with locals personally and through social media, and that generated stories and interest from journalists, who he was "happy to talk to".

He supported better protection for whistleblowers, provided they were "acting in a truthful manner".

"I think the media can be used in a positive way to highlight issues that need to be addressed by everyone in society," Cr Dickson said.

"I don't see the need to restrict what can or can't be reported.

"If it is reported as fact and truth and it's not subject to confidentiality, I don't see the need to stifle reporting."

He thought "99.9 per cent" of government activities should be publicly available.

"Obviously there are areas where commercial contracts should stay protected as they are right across the country in the real world," he said.

He said he thought people didn't have a right to know anything protected under law.

Division 7 Councillor Ted Hungerford said he supported increasing press freedom in Australia and didn't support greater restrictions on what could or couldn't be reported.

He said local governments weren't legislative assemblies, whereas State and Commonwealth governments were, and could pass and enact legislation.

"Local governments are given legislation and regulations that we have to work within and therefore local governments have no powers in this regard," he said.

He supported better protection for whistleblowers, and said a free press, and protection for people to expose poor government practice was "very important" to him.

He thought restrictions should stand when it came to "anything that hinders or compromises national security, or police investigations into illegal activities and anything that impinges the personal rights of an individual (Privacy Act) that is currently Commonwealth legislation".

Division 9 Councillor Steve Robinson said he supported press freedom in Australia "within the laws of the land".

Division 3 Councillor Peter Cox said he wasn't fully across the issue at hand, as it likely related to other tiers of government, but he was "very supportive of freedom of press in Australia".

Division 10 Councillor Greg Rogerson said his rudimentary understanding of press freedom was that "the truth is the truth" and any journalist had the right to report the truth, hence he didn't know why there would be a need to increase press freedom.

"As an elected local government representative, I believe I am bound to convey as much genuine, truthful information to the general public, as possible," he said.

"I endeavour to carry out my role as a councillor to the best of my ability, with open, clear and transparent decision making, where ever and whenever I can."

He also supported better protection for whistleblowers.

"If 'whistleblowers' have the integrity, honesty and intestinal fortitude to stand up for what's right and call out wrongdoings, the least we can do is to support and protect them, as best we can," Cr Rogerson said.

He said a free press, and protection for people to expose poor government practice, was "extremely important".

"The press/media however, should never declare themselves as the absolute arbiter," he said.

"The press/media should always transcribe a balanced, factual story, void of 'hearsay' and innuendo."

He expected, regardless of which government was in power, decisions on national security and human rights and safety, should be "unashamedly paramount and protected with exemplary vigour".

Cr Rogerson said people "most definitely" had a right to know what governments of all levels were doing with their money and in their name.

"My point of view is that it is unequivocally unAustralian not to fully inform people where their rates and taxes are being spent," he said.

He said people didn't have the right to know how much money someone earnt, unless they were a public servant, bureaucrat, elected representative, or CEO/executive of a publicly-listed company.

"The love or loves of your life, your sexual preference, your faith, religion or lack thereof," were the other items he believed people didn't have a right to know.

Crs Jason O'Pray, Rick Baberowski, John Connolly, Jenny McKay and Deputy Mayor Tim Dwyer were unable to respond to the questions.