Australian councils chase law changes to be able to meet online – Cloud – Networking – Software- Tempemail – Blog – 10 minute

The NSW Government is working to amend legislation to clear a path for council meetings to be held online, and the Victorian Government is facing similar pressure to act.
In NSW, the changes are contained in an emergency measures bill, which passed the Legislative Assembly earlier on Tuesday and were being debated by the Legislative Council into the evening.
The bill packages up a large number of proposed law changes to deal with COVID-19, but from a technology perspective covers an anticipated rise in the use of audio visual conferencing in court cases and council sittings.
On councils, the proposed changes “remove the need for persons to attend council meetings”, according to explanatory notes. [pdf]
“The meetings may be held remotely by audio visual link or in any other manner approved by the Minister for Local Government. 
“Members of the public are to be given access to the meeting by webcast or in any other manner approved by the Minister. 
“The provision applies for a minimum period of six months and may apply for a total of 12 months if the regulations prescribe a longer period.”
Local Government NSW (LGNSW) president Linda Scott expressed gratitude that NSW local government minister Shelley Hancock “had responded quickly to LGNSW’s advocacy on the need to allow councils to hold official meetings electronically, rather than physically.”
LGNSW is the peak body representing councils in the state.
“In a pandemic, governance by elected representatives is an essential service,” Cr Scott said.
“We welcome the Minister’s agreement to support Local Government NSW’s calls to enable councils that can do so to meet via audio visual links, and make a webcast of the meeting available to the public.
“The NSW Government must ensure all councils, including those unable to meet these new requirements, will be able to urgently obtain approval for alternative arrangements to enable them to meet.
“Overall this is a sensible move that recognises the need to protect local democracy, transparency and accountability to voters while also aligning with appropriate social distancing guidelines.”
Peak bodies in other states are mounting similar campaigns seeking legislative changes.
The Municipal Association of Victoria (MAV) today called on the Victorian Government “to urgently make changes to council meeting requirements to enable meetings to take place online.”
It said the state’s laws currently require councillors “to be physically in attendance at a council meeting in order to participate in council decision-making”. 
“If there isn’t a majority of councillors in attendance, councils cannot make a quorum and the meetings cannot proceed,” the MAV said.
Cr Coral Ross, president of the MAV, said, “Inflexible council meeting requirements under state legislation [are] a significant concern for local governments across the country as many council chambers do not allow for appropriate social distancing.”
“This is an unprecedented situation which requires collaboration and innovative thinking,:” Cr Ross said.
“With streaming and virtual meetings now widely available, we call on the Minister for Local Government Adem Somyurek and the State Government to make this common sense decision and enable one of these options to be implemented as an alternative to meeting face to face.”

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Telstra wins CBD payphone war with councils – Finance – Hardware – Telco/ISP- Tempemail – Blog – 10 minute

Telstra has won a battle of sorts against three Australian CBD city councils over what constitutes a phone box under federal law – versus what local governments claimed is a big electronic billboard rollout cunningly disguised as new “smart” cabinets.
In an intriguing rebuff to an attempt to secure federal intervention by Melbourne City Council –backed by Brisbane City Council and the City of Sydney – the Federal Court on Tuesday determined that a phone box is just a phone box … at least until the ads are actually switched on.
The battle between Telstra and city planners across three states is a litmus test over how Telstra can continue to use and apply a “low impact” threshold to phone boxes and booths that have for decades let it bypass council permissions by using telecommunications regulations to trump council planning powers.
The decision is an important one because it will affect councils across Australia.
Councils, which regulate and charge fees to permit outdoor advertising, had accused Telstra of sneaking in new phone booths with large electronic displays under the ‘low impact’ rules as a way to gazump their control over outdoor ads.
Under the ‘low impact’ regulations phone booths can have ads and bypass council controls; but they have to be ads about phone services, rather than third party ads for the likes of handbags, fast food Netflix or nearby attractions.
Tuesday’s ruling by Federal Court Justice David O’Callaghan maintained that definition – albeit with the catch that Telstra will have to apply for new planning permission if it wanted to make the new electronic billboards display non-Telstra ads.
Councils, which traditionally sell advertising rights to street furniture providers like JCDecaux to offset the cost of that infrastructure, are deeply unhappy that what used to be community infrastructure is now eroding their ad revenue base.
The biggest rub for councils is that Telstra will now be converting its fleet of increasingly under-utilised payphone boxes into an street advertising property play without councils getting a say where the boxes can and can’t be – which effectively dilutes the value of advertising sites the councils can clip.
“It is apparent from the evidence that Telstra and [JCDecaux] are seeking to take advantage of Part 6 of the Determination to install structures that act as electronic billboards for third-party commercial advertising, in ideal revenue-generating locations throughout Australia’s capital cities (and other population centres), and by doing so, avoid the need to comply with State town planning laws, or obtain landowner consent,” Melbourne City Council submitted.
“The means by which Telstra is seeking to engineer that outcome is by attaching a payphone instrument to one side of a panel structure, and calling it a ‘public payphone cabinet’.”
One of the more amusing arguments run by the councils was that the inclusion of a USB charger port on the new phone booths sufficiently deviated from the core use of the phone box to cross the legal line because it “is not a use for either a carriage or content service within the meaning of criterion.”
Which didn’t get it very far.
“The presence of the USB charger is understood to be trivial and thus irrelevant to the relevant inquiry, then leaving aside the question whether planning permission is given to display commercial advertising on them, the New Payphone Cabinets satisfy the definitional requirements of a low-impact facility, on the (balance of) the Councils’ own case,” Justice O’Callaghan wrote.
The judge was also underwhelmed by various definitional arguments as to what made a phone box a phone box in terms of its construction.
He said that Melbourne City Council had “invoked the Macquarie Dictionary definitions of “cabinet” including “a piece of furniture with shelves, drawers, etc., for holding or displaying valuable objects, dishes”; “a piece of furniture holding a record-player, radio, television, or the like”; and “a case with compartments for precious objects, etc.”.
Melbourne also fell back on the Shorter Oxford English Dictionary and cited the definitions of “A secret receptacle, a repository”; “[a] case or cupboard with drawers, shelves, etc., for storing or displaying objects”; “[a] small chamber; a private room”; “[a] small cabin; a tent; a rustic lodging; an animal’s den”.”
People living nearby Telstra payphones might empathise with the descriptions of a rustic lodging or animal’s den given the frequent misuse of booths for a range of anti-social activities, but Justice O’Callaghan did not.
“I reject that submission,” Justice O’Callaghan wrote.

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Queensland councils’ Energy Detective finds victory at Benchmark Awards – Projects- Tempemail – Blog – 10 minute

The Local Government Association of Queensland (LGAQ) has used data analytics to help the state’s councils shave hundreds of thousands of dollars off their energy bills.
Analytics and Special Projects principal at LGAQ, Brodie Ruttan, told iTnews the Energy Detective leverages existing data tools including AWS, Snowflake, Alteryx and Tableau, with council assets benchmarked by kilowatt consumption per square metre per day.
The Energy Detective’s success is that it isn’t really comparable to commercially available bill validation tools, which don’t allow anonymous benchmarking and require councils to share data with third parties rather than the LGAQ which is owned by its member organisations.
Importantly for council buy-in, the benchmarking is anonymised to avoid ‘naming and shaming,’
Libraries emerged as one of the best council properties for benchmarking, highlighting how small changes in energy tariffs could result in big differences in costs across broadly similar sites.
By changing to cheaper tariffs identified through the Energy Detective, some councils were able to find savings of around $140,000 over the course of a year for just a single site.
The platform was also able to identify sites that were using an abnormally high amount of electricity, were no longer active but were still being charged connection fees, and even sites that had fallen into a different council’s boundaries during local government redistribution but were still being paid for by the original council.
In total, a quarter of all councils using the platform found they were still paying for a site that was no longer in their boundaries.
You can read more about the LGAQ’s work alongside the other winning projects and finalists here.
Winners were announced at the iTnews Benchmark Awards 2020 gala dinner held at KPMG’s Sydney Office in Barangaroo.

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Call for English councils to be given powers to regulate Airbnb | Technology – Blog – 10 minute

Local councils in England must be given powers to regulate Airbnb and other short-term letting sites in order to alleviate the “intolerable” pressure they put on the availability of local housing, the Green party MP, Caroline Lucas, has said.
Her intervention followed a Guardian investigation that found one Airbnb listing for every four residential properties in some hotspots across Britain. Airbnb has disputed the finding.
Meanwhile, an organisation representing landlords has warned that imminent tax changes will drive an increasing number of landlords towards Airbnb and its rivals, depriving renters of long-term, stable tenancies.
Last month Lucas asked the government to make it easier for councils to impose a 90-day cap on homes let out on Airbnb and other online platforms. Airbnb says the vast majority of properties on the platform are already rented for less than 90 days a year.
She wants the UK government to follow Scotland’s lead. In January Holyrood announced new measures giving local authorities in Scotland powers to regulate short-term lets. This includes a licensing scheme with health and safety stipulations, which would also allow councils to address the concerns of local residents. A tax on short-term lets is also being considered.

“Brighton and Hove city council should be given the powers to regulate this industry, which is having such a serious impact on an already overstretched private rental sector and on more highly regulated hotels and B&Bs, which are being undercut. There needs to be a level playing field,” said Lucas.
“The pressure put on the availability of local housing by Airbnb in some areas of UK is intolerable. Local councils must be given powers to regulate this, so local housing needs are not squeezed out,” she tweeted on Friday.
Airbnb said the Guardian’s data was flawed and that some listings were for hotel rooms, single rooms in homes, and unusual properties such as caravans, meaning their rental did not affect housing stock.
Patrick Robinson, the company’s director of public policy, said: “Airbnb is a good partner to cities and we were the first platform to limit how often hosts in London can share their homes. We are also working with cities across the UK on proposals for a host registration system that we will proactively put to the government later this year to help ensure that rules work for everyone.”
But some critics of the company in hotspot areas say the saturation of their neighbourhoods is changing their way of life. Chris Hayes, a 55-year-old train driver who lives in the North Laine area of Brighton, said his life was being made a misery because five of the 29 cottages in his row were being advertised on Airbnb and similar sites.
“Residents have no way of stopping noise without confrontation. The owners are unknown or uncontactable, the ‘hosts’ do not have contact numbers for out-of-office hours, the council does not have noise abatement officers at night, the police treat it as very low priority,” he said, complaining of being woken by parties and the sound of suitcases being trundled along the alleyway in the middle of the night.
He added: “Airbnbs should be a planning change of use from residential. You need a change of use to convert a home to an office, hotel or shop. Why not to Airbnb?”
In 2018, up to 2,000 homes were being used as short-term holiday lets in Brighton, according to the council – a figure that is likely to have increased since. Between May 2019 and January 2020, the number of active UK listings on the website increased by 14% to 257,000.
The Residential Landlords Association (RLA) warned on Friday that renters were finding it harder to access long-term homes to rent because taxation changes are driving landlords to move into the holiday lettings market.
Last month, research from ARLA Propertymark found that nearly half a million UK properties could be left unavailable for longer-term rent as more landlords exit the market in favour of short-term lettings. Many landlords blame the government for restricting mortgage interest relief to the basic rate of income tax, claiming they will be significantly worse off or even unable to make a profit on their lettings.
The change does not apply to short-term lets, encouraging more landlords to move into that market, according to the RLA. Anyone buying a second home or buy-to-let property has also been hit with a 3% stamp duty surcharge since April 2016 under changes introduced by George Osborne as chancellor.
David Smith, the RLA’s policy director, said: “Government policy is actively encouraging the growth of holiday homes at the expense of long-term homes to rent, which many families need. This is completely counterproductive, making renting more expensive and undermining efforts to help tenants save for a house of their own.
“The chancellor must use his budget to give tenants a better deal by supporting good landlords to provide the homes to rent that they want to live in.”

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Councils let firms track visits to webpages on benefits and disability | Technology – Blog – 10 minute

Councils are sharing information about users of their websites – including when they seek help with a benefit claim, or with a disability or alcoholism – with dozens of private companies.
More than 400 local authorities allowed at least one third-party company to track individuals who visit their sites, an investigation has revealed.
Some councils were found to be letting companies track use of sensitive sections of their sites, such as when people were seeking financial help or support for substance abuse.
Data obtained from cookies tracking where users go online can be sold by data brokers for profit.
Critics have argued that council websites serve a public purpose and should not let outside firms monitor their users’ activity, especially given the sensitive nature of some visits.

Council user data
Wolfie Christl, a technologist and researcher who has been investigating the ad-tech industry, said: “Public sector websites and apps should not use invasive third-party tracking at all.”
Johnny Ryan, the chief policy officer at the anonymous web browser Brave, who analysed council websites and shared the findings with the Guardian, said: “Private companies embedded on council websites learn about you. This happens even on the most sensitive occasions, when you might be seeking help from your council.”
Brave used open-source tools to see what companies were present on certain webpages. They found 409 council websites in the UK allowed private companies to receive data about their visitors.
The investigation has found:

Twenty-three councils let data brokers – businesses that collect personal information about consumers and sell that information to other organisations – learn when someone visited their site.

On Enfield borough council’s site, a page for people who need financial support for accommodation and food allowed 21 companies, including Google, to see who was visiting.

A page on Sheffield city council’s website for people seeking help for substance abuse shared data about visitors with at least 20 companies, including seven data brokers.

Ealing’s special educational needs and disability page allowed at least 21 firms to access data about visitors.

Almost 7 million people are served by councils that allow one data broker, LiveRamp, to track people on their sites. The company used to be part of Acxiom, a group that sold electoral profiles to Cambridge Analytica.

Companies track online activity through cookies, pixels and other trackers. When embedded in a browser, these bits of code can let users be traced around the web. While they don’t identify personal details such as name or address, they identify a user’s viewing habits – such as which page was loaded at a specific time.
While many websites including the Guardian use cookies, Ravi Naik, a data lawyer at AWO, suggested that their use on council websites was problematic because of the nature of the details being shared. He said: “We have most of our conversations with the state through local authorities and because of that involve more sensitive and personal information.”
It is now prohibited for companies to share data on protected categories without explicit consent. This means before information on health, sexual orientation, race and political opinions is collected, the user must agree to the specific sharing of their “special category” data.
Companies say they have consent via people accepting cookies. However, Brave’s report found that while some websites may have stated they used cookies, no users clicked on any buttons to accept or opt out of this process.
The law states consent must be informed and based on an explicit affirmative action. The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) said: “To be valid, consent must be freely given, specific and informed. It must involve some form of unambiguous positive action – for example, ticking a box or clicking a link – and the person must fully understand that they are giving you consent.”
Ryan said: “We used an automatic system to load each council’s webpage. All it does is load the site. It is not able to click buttons. All of the tracking revealed in our research happened without consent.”
Mark Gannon, the director of business change and information solutions at Sheffield city council, said cookies were used on its website, “and we require the consent of all customers to store or retrieve any data on a computer, laptop, smartphone or tablet”.
The report states that when the Sheffield council website was loaded, companies could track someone without clicking on anything.
Sheffield council said it used an Internet Advertising Bureau (IAB) transparency and consent framework tool provided by the Council Advertising Network. The network said: “No cookies whatsoever are installed for data brokerage purposes – this suggests that data collected from the website is being sold on, and it is not.”
Ealing council said it believed its approach was “compliant with the requirements of GDPR”. However, it noted: “This is a complex and ever-evolving area which needs to be kept under review.”
Enfield borough council in north London did not provide a comment.
LiveRamp said it was no longer a part of Acxiom and it had never “sold UK electoral profile information to Cambridge Analytica”. It said it operated in compliance with jurisdictional laws and worked “diligently to detect and prevent the misuse of data”.
A further 198 councils use real-time bidding (RTB) – when a web user loads a page, thousands of potential advertisers bid to serve them an advert in the blink of an eye. It means people’s data is being broadcast all over the internet to hundreds of companies. The ICO has been investigating the practice.
Naik said there were two main issues. “The micro issue is: are councils really informing people about what is going on? The macro thing is the real-time bidding ad industry. There is an ongoing complaint to the Information Commissioner’s Office about this practice. They have already said they consider the practice unlawful.”
Naik said it was hard to tell whether councils were making money from it. “But I imagine to councils it seems like a win-win situation.”
A Google spokesperson said it did not build advertising profiles “from sensitive interest categories, including from sites offering help to address personal hardships, and we have strict policies preventing advertisers from using such data to target ads”.
They told the Guardian that third-party cookies could be used to better enable basic site functions or to serve and measure advertising.

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Energy Detective finds thousands in savings for Queensland councils – Projects- Tempemail – Blog – 10 minute

Queensland’s 77 local councils combined spend $250 million on energy every year, but until now have had little insight into what they could be doing to reduce their costs or how they compare to other councils.
After a survey of members highlighted a growing desire for stronger data and analytics capability, the Local Government Association Queensland has been working to develop a tool to delve into councils’ energy spend.
Analytics and Special Projects principal at LGAQ, Brodie Ruttan, told iTnews the Energy Detective leverages existing data tools including AWS, Snowflake, Alteryx and Tableau, with council assets benchmarked by kilowatt consumption per square metre per day.
He said the association was able to secure buy-in from councils, who are understandably wary about sharing data, because it was never envisioned as an ‘open data’ project for the whole world to see.
Rather, the data sharing project is only visible to local governments, gathering and anonymising data so councils can perform their own benchmarking.
Ruttan said that libraries emerged as one of the best sites to compare energy spend across councils, with some spending 10 times their peers for comparable properties.
Changing tariffs was revealed as an effective way to save money, with some individual sites costing councils $140,000 more than similar sites in the course of a year.
The Energy Detective was also able to highlight when a site wasn’t using electricity but was still being charged connection fees (adding up to hundreds or even thousands of dollars per site per year), costly billing errors, or when a council was still paying the power bill for a site that it no longer owned thanks to boundary redistributions.
“We found one site that was 1100km from council that it was paid for 18 months after a redistribution,” Ruttan said.
In total, a quarter of all councils using the platform found they were still paying for a site that was no longer in their boundaries.
Ruttan added that another factor in the Energy Detective’s success is that it isn’t really comparable to commercially available bill validation tools, which don’t allow anonymous benchmarking and require councils to share data with third parties rather than the LGAQ which is owned by its member organisations.
The LG Sherlock team are currently investigating other uses for the platform, including ways to drive efficiency in how energy guzzling public swimming pools are managed.
This project was a finalist in the Local Government and Sustainability categories of the iTnews Benchmark Awards 2020.

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