Questions over confidential documents continue

Public question time at Hume City Council brought its advisory body – the audit & risk committee (A&R) – back into the spotlight last week.

The committee made the news after a bundle of minutes from seven of its meetings dating back to 2022 were presented to councillors on Monday 12 February.

They were all deemed to be confidential, even though the council’s own acting manager of governance, Joel Kimber, tells Sunbury Life that only sections of the documents contained confidential information. Sunbury Life has previously reported on the issue here.

The committee meets four times a year, and its five members are:

  • Jen Johansen, a qualified and experienced chartered accountant and internal auditor
  • Shannon Buckle, an experienced audit and risk management professional with over 20 years of audit, risk management and operational experience
  • Bruce Potgieter has experience across a range of government and private sectors in relation to audit, risk management, and compliance
  • Councillor Jarrod Bell has expertise in governance and risk management 
  • Mayor Naim Kurt has a strong interest in public transport
Sheena Frost, CEO, Hume City Council.
Sheena Frost, CEO, Hume City Council.

The question is, given the experience of A&R committee members, and with only sections of the minutes being deemed confidential by the council’s acting manager of governance, why vote to hide them from public inspection?

While Hume City Council CEO Sheena Frost says future A&R minutes will be adopted in open, “with a separate confidential section if required”, she says she cannot override the A&R committee and make confidential documents public.

At a council meeting on Monday 26 February, Moira Attwater’s written question about the issue was read out by mayor Kurt:

Listen to the question and answer re the audit & risk committee – Monday 26 February 2024.

“The minutes of seven committee meetings were presented to the 12 February council meeting as confidential attachments, without any explanation of which parts of section 3(1) of the Local Government Act 2020 required the minutes to be confidential.

“Transparency is an overarching governance principle of the act, and on page 256 of tonight’s agenda it says that: ‘The self-assessment has highlighted that the (audit and risk) committee continues to operate at a very high standard’.

“For a member of the public, such as myself, I don’t view this as a very high standard and would like the minutes of all advisory committee meetings, including the audit and risk committee, to be reported to council meetings as public documents.

“Will the independent members of the audit and risk committee be penalised via a deduction from their independent member fees for their failure to comply with section 6.2 and 5.6 of the audit and risk committee charter?”

The council’s chief financial officer, Fadi Srour, responded: “Council meeting agendas are not set by the audit and risk committee so the independent members of the audit and risk committee will not be penalised.”

Among the responsibilities of the A&R committee is that its members should: report directly to council as soon as practicable after each ordinary meeting of the committee through the minutes of the committee meetings being presented and adopted by council.