New guide on messaging apps for councillors
Monday 4 May 2020
A helpful new guide has been released outlining the rules and risks for Queensland councillors when using messaging apps to discuss council business.
Developed by the Office of the Independent Assessor (OIA) in conjunction with Queensland State Archives, the guide makes it easy for councillors to understand their legal obligations when it comes to the use of apps, while highlighting some pitfalls to avoid.
Independent Assessor Kathleen Florian said any conversation on an app that relates to council business must be properly recorded.
“Councillors should use the systems provided by council to discuss council matters, but if they stray into a conversation on an app the guide outlines how the conversation can be properly recorded,” she said.
“And with some apps it is important to do this quickly, before the conversations disappear.
“Any communication about council matters is a public record and it is important to be aware that the same recordkeeping laws apply to conversations on apps and social media as they do to formal meetings.”
“It is about ensuring there are formal records to engender public confidence in council decisions and helping councillors to defend themselves should a controversy arise down the track.”
Ms Florian said a failure to keep proper records could see councillors accused of misconduct, inappropriate conduct or offences related to the Public Records Act 2002.
She also cautioned them not to assume that no one would ever know if they had used an app inappropriately.
“Relationships can change and any party to a conversation can screenshot it and make it public, and those sorts of records can often be released at a time designed to cause maximum harm like the lead-up to an election.
“That sort of capacity for compromise also increases a councillor’s vulnerability to bribery or coercion.
“And it is not just individuals at risk, third-party disclosure of councillors’ use of apps for official business could damage the reputation of an entire council by creating the perception of corruption or a cover-up.”
Ms Florian said she felt the new guide would prove valuable to the many newly elected councillors in Queensland, particularly those joining local government for the first time.
The advice on the use of messaging apps can be found on the OIA website.
Media contact: 0477 385 727 OIAmedia@oia.qld.gov.au
Last updated: Monday, May 4, 2020