When Gympie council plans to reopen meetings to public
Residents hoping to once again attend Gympie Regional Council meetings (as COVID continues to be kept at bay and the vaccine rollout begins) may be waiting a while yet, with one rule proving the sticking point.
The 1.5m social distancing rule mandated by the government remains the main hurdle to throwing the doors open to the public once more, a restriction further complicated by the historic hall meetings are held in.
"Due to the layout of the (Town Hall) room, we do not have the space needed to uphold the 1.5m social distancing requirement to keep the public safe," council communications manager Sharna Rowley said.
"The current layout and seating arrangement takes up the full space, and as a heritage building, changes cannot be easily made."
The meetings have been closed to the public since COVID struck in March last year, and have been live streamed on the council's Facebook page and website for public viewing instead.
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The lockout has become a contentious point in recent months as restrictions continue to loosen due to the almost non-existent community transmission in the country and football games host large capacity crowds.
This has prompted criticism that the council was using the restrictions to hide from the public.
A State Government spokesman said the council meeting's chairperson was allowed under local government legislation "to close the meeting to the public if satisfied it is necessary for health and safety reasons associated with the public health emergency involving COVID-19".
"This is a matter for the council to determine."
The State's health guidelines state the 1.5m rule must be applied "wherever possible".
Mrs Rowley said the Town Hall was the "most suitable" building in the region for the meetings to be streamed, and through this, meetings have remained in the public eye.
"The Town Hall is the most suitable for council meetings, and are always live streamed to ensure residents are able to view and listen to discussions and the decisions made," she said.
"For residents who are not able to watch live, all live streamed meetings are available to view on council's website."