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                    [post_content] => [caption id="attachment_23715" align="alignnone" width="595"]Jackie Trad1 Overhauling complaints system, Jackie Trad. Pic: Facebook[/caption]

 

 The Queensland state government will recalibrate how local councils deal with complaints about mayors and councillors.

The Palaszczuk government has ordered a review into the way complaints are managed in-house, procedures left unchanged since 2009 when they were introduced.

QLD Deputy Premier Jackie Trad said she had rethought her original decision to disallow a review after getting feedback from local government stakeholders, including the Local Government Managers Association (LGMA) and Local Government Association of Queensland (LGAQ).

Ms Trad had previously declined to conduct a review into local government complaints, calling the current procedure “adequate.”

But she said she changed her mind after LGMA contacted her expressing concern about the potential for conflicts of interest for local council general managers and CEOs when handling and managing complaints.

She was also swayed by LGAQ’s voicing concerns over there being no scope to review or appeal decisions and to  “better ensure natural justice is afforded to all parties."

"These procedures have not been comprehensively reviewed since they were introduced in 2009 and this review is timely to ensure there is a modern, fair, transparent and accountable system in place to manage complaints," Ms Trad told Parliament.

"The review will examine the statutory provisions relating to complaints to assess the effectiveness of the current legislative and policy framework and make recommendations about policy, legislative and operational changes required to improve the system of dealing with complaints about councillors' conduct," she said.

The review will be conducted by an independent panel led by former Integrity Commissioner David Solomon. The panel will also include former Noosa mayor Noel Playford and former Logan City chief executive Gary Kellar with a report expected within six months.

LGAQ chief executive Greg Hallam said the need for a review of the complaints process was highlighted by “a high level of smear against candidates” during recent local government elections in Queensland.

“We want the process tightened so it can’t be used as a political tool and that is why this review is welcome,’’ Mr Hallam said.

“At the moment, there are some complaints that go to the Remuneration and Discipline Tribunal, some that are dealt with by the councils themselves and still others handled by the local government department. Trying to decide who has the remit can be difficult.”

 

 
                    [post_title] => Queensland to overhaul complaints system governing councillors
                    [post_excerpt] => Complaints used as a political tool.
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                    [post_content] => DSC_5461

 

Sleazy tactics, name trashing, corruption allegations and abuse of parliamentary privilege.

It sounds like another day at the office in New South Wales local and state politics – but Queensland’s elected representatives are fast showing they won’t be upstaged by slimey Southerners when it comes to mud-slinging during the state’s council election season.

Voters preparing to head to the polls on March 19th were on Thursday greeted by a desperate plea from the peak body representing councils up North, the Local Government Association of Queensland (LGAQ), for state politicians to stop dragging their sector’s name through the mud for their own ends.

The body’s chief executive, Greg Hallam said the community there was “sick and tired of negative and sleazy election campaigning” and warned a number elections were “in danger of being hijacked by those who believed spreading lies and falsehoods about their political opponents was the key to success at the ballot box.”

It’s an admirable sentiment, but in reality Queensland councils and councilors are battening down the hatches for what many anticipate will be one of the ugliest, meanest and dirty election seasons in recent history after the trouncing of the Campbell Newman LNP state government after just one term.

With just a couple of weeks to go, there’s still plenty of potential for reputational damage to be done to the local sector (which often acts as a training ground for state politics) and its advocates are worried.

Intra-party brawling has also broken out. The war of words over councils is being propelled in part by Cairns Labor MP Rob Pynes, who has been pushing hard for an inquiry into the local government sector that he claims is rife with workplace bullying.

Having tabled hundreds of documents in Parliament since October, Mr Pyne’s ongoing campaign from within the Labor Palaszczuk Government has proven particularly irritating for both the Premier and her Deputy Premier and Local Government Minister Jackie Trad, who hold on to power in the unicameral parliament by the thinnest of margins.

On Tuesday Mr Pyne hit Twitter over the conduct of councils, tweeting “Is our Deputy Premier acknowledging Council corruption? You set the LG rules Jackie and those rules must change!”.

So far the Palaszczuk government has rebuffed the calls for a formal inquiry into councils, but the image of local governments there has been further dented by what Mr Hallam said were claims “made in the context of the elections that are plainly aimed at damaging individual reputations and smearing councils.”

Like NSW, some councils and councilors aren’t exactly enhancing their own reputations.

On Thursday national broadcaster the ABC reported that a $3.3 million deal to sell land by Brisbane City Council without a public tender or auction to a donor of the LNP – which holds the council – had been referred to Queensland’s Crime and Corruption Commission.

According to the ABC report, both the Lord Mayor of Brisbane, Graham Quirk, and the buyer maintain that the sale was above board and went through the proper channels, despite Local Government Minister Jackie Trad later sinking the sale by refusing an exemption from the regular sale process.

However the very revelation of the referral to the CCC in itself has prompted claims of deliberate leaking to damage political opponents in the Queensland council elections.

While referrals to the NSW Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) are routinely disclosed by both politicians and administrators, Queensland’s referrals are usually kept confidential thanks to history of referrals to the watchdog being used for vexatious and political motives.

One important aspect of the election lost among the mudslinging is that Queenslanders will – slightly confusingly – also be voting in a referendum for the length of term for the state government and whether or not to keep it at a fixed date every four years.

While there is broad bipartisan support to keep the current system, it’s much less clear how voters will react after the tumultuous years of the one term Campbell Newman government that was thrown out in the biggest landslide in Australian electoral history.

The piggybacking of the referendum, which spares the government the cost of a separate vote, is understood to have prompted fears in some councils that ballots for the referendum will be counted before those cast for councilors.

The LGAQ’s chief Greg Hallam is urging all participating in the election to keep campaigning civil and above board.

“It’s time to stop the rot and remember that a clean election campaign is the only good campaign in the minds of the community,’’ Mr Hallam said.

Good luck with that.
                    [post_title] => QLD councils slam sleazy election tactics
                    [post_excerpt] => Mudslinging mars local government poll.
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                    [post_content] =>  

[caption id="attachment_21485" align="alignnone" width="300"]turnbull train Malcolm takes the train[/caption]

The new broom sweeping through Canberra may have significant consequences for major state government rail projects. Malcolm Turnbull has specifically repudiated his predecessor Tony Abbott’s comment that Commonwealth government funding for infrastructure should be limited to roads.

Turnbull, a noted bus and train traveller, said the Commonwealth should not discriminate between modes of transportation. “There is no ‘roads are not better than mass transit’ or vice versa, each has their place,” said Mr Turnbull after winning the leadership of the Liberal Party.

“Infrastructure should be assessed objectively and rationally on its merit. There is no place for ideology here at all.’’

A number of state leaders have taken Mr Turnbull's comments as a sign that he may back public transport projects in their own backyards.

Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews met with Mr Turnbull within days of his elevation to the prime ministership. They discussed, amongst other things, funding for Melbourne Metro rail project, which is proceeding apace after the incoming Andrews Labor government cancelled the giant East-west link road project,

“I would welcome a strong and significant financial contribution from the Turnbull government in recognition of the new Prime Minister's clear sense that public transport is so important,” Mr Andrews said.

Queensland Deputy Premier Jackie Trad said she had already sent list of potential rail projects to Mr Turnbull, including a ‘no brainer’ business case for extending the Gold Coast’s successful light right project ahead of the city’s hosting of the Commonwealth Games in April 2018.

Western Australian Premier Colin Barnett said on ABC radio that he hoped Mr Turnbull would expand the Federal Government's infrastructure funding to include rail as well as roads. Mr Barnett’s government is facing funding problems with its proposed Max light rail project and airport rail link.

Mr Turnbull's comments about funding have been interpreted as a direct dig at Tony Abbott, who wrote in his 2009 book Battlelines of ‘Kings in Their Own Cars’, saying public transport was not suited to Australia’s sprawling ‘suburban metropolises’.

“In Australia’s big cities, public transport is generally slow, expensive, not especially reliable and a still a hideous drain of the public purse. Part of the problem is inefficient, over-manned, union-dominated, government-run train and bus systems," Mr Abbott said in his book.

“Mostly, there just aren’t enough people wanting to go from a particular place to a particular destination at a particular time to justify any vehicle larger than a car, and cars need roads.”

Mr Abbott’s bias against public transport was seen by many as part of his ideological mindset. In 2013 he said: “We have no history of funding urban rail and I think it is important that we stick to our knitting. And the Commonwealth’s knitting when it comes to funding infrastructure is roads.”

If a week is a long time in politics, then the last seven days has been an eternity.

 

 

 
                    [post_title] => PM’s public transport comments encourage state leaders
                    [post_excerpt] => Infrastructure does not mean only roads, says Malcolm Turnbull
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                    [post_content] => Roundabout Bowen road and Macarthur drive

 

Queensland’s councils and its state government have finally won their important and protracted battle to be allowed to use local labour on federally funded disaster relief and clean-up programmes instead of hiring-in more expensive external contractors because of Canberra’s spending rules.

The conspicuous backdown by federal authorities means that local governments in the state will now be able to provide   and be reimbursed for   so-called council ‘day labour’ instead of trying to find more expensive outside companies while locals sit idle.

The issue of councils being forced to use external contracting as a purchasing mechanism under the Natural Disaster Relief and Recovery Arrangements has been a point of visceral anger in many ravaged communities because it often means that people put out of work by natural disasters can’t even apply for temporary jobs to help restore their own communities.

Inflaming that sentiment has been the fact that hiring in external contractors is usually much slower and significantly more expensive than using council day labour, meaning that relief dollars don’t go as far and vital repairs take longer than they should.

The effect has been that the rules slow down physical and economic recovery when the complete opposite is intended. They have also inflamed anti-Canberra sentiment in many communities that believe the federal government is badly out of touch with what communities need.

The Local Government Association of Queensland has been on the warpath in Canberra over the bizarre spending criteria that its president Margaret de Wit has cited as a prime example of “bureaucratic rigidity”.

Ms de Wit thanked Prime Minister Tony Abbott for finally showing common sense on the issue, noting that Queensland government figures showed the use of council day labour rather than contract labour to clean up after floods and cyclones over the summer of 2011 and 2012 saved taxpayers $160 million.

Also getting kudos is Queensland's Deputy Premier and Local Government Minister Jackie Trad, who Ms de Wit said had been “taking the fight up to Canberra.”

Ms Trad, who is presently acting Premier, welcomed the decision to reimburse councils and said councils they now had the certainty needed to get on with the job of rebuilding in the wake of Cyclone Marcia and Cyclone Nathan.

However she was less flattering of the amount of time it took Canberra to compromise.

“Councils told me that external contractors were often not available to undertake work in remote communities and these contractors could not offer value for money to taxpayers,” Ms Trad said.

“Four months after Cyclone Marcia devastated Central Queensland the federal government has finally agreed to allow local councils to use their workforce to undertake reconstruction works.”

The Acting Queensland Premier said the Abbott Government had been provided with an independent report that showed significant savings from the day labour trial of 2011 and 2012 works.

“Unfortunately the Abbott Government and the former Newman Government allowed the trial to expire in 2014 which meant when the cyclone hit the National Disaster Recovery Relief Arrangements prohibited the use of day labour,” Ms Trad said.
                    [post_title] => QLD councils win local disaster relief battle
                    [post_excerpt] => Abbott government finally allows locals to work on their own recovery.
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                    [post_content] => Cuffs6

The Local Government Association of Queensland (LGAQ) has fired back over a sharply critical report on fraud management in the state’s councils issued by the Queensland Audit Office that has called a tougher approach to compel better reporting of losses and record keeping of allegations.

The Audit report revealed that just one council was responsible for a whopping 42 per cent of alleged and proven frauds over a five year period, triggering a referral to the Queensland’s Crime and Corruption Commission. The council has not been named.

The report also took issue with how accurate the disclosure of fraud is within Queensland councils, saying that “almost two-thirds of councils surveyed (63 per cent) claimed to have had no confirmed cases of fraud over the past five-years” – a figure the Audit Office said was inconsistent with global research.

But the chief executive of the LGAQ, Greg Hallam, has defended councils’ performance on managing fraud.

“We believe systems councils have in place are largely working in that confirmed fraud cases were detected and dealt with,” Mr Hallam said.

“Risk management strategies, increased internal audit function requirements, registers of interest, and disclosure of conflicts of interest and material personal interests, with significant penalties for breaches, are all means by which fraud can be limited and controlled.”

The peak body for councils is also pointing to the low value of fraud losses against the backdrop of large expenditure.

“The Auditor-General established that councils have reported 324 cases of alleged and proven fraud between July 2009 and November 2014 involving sums totalling $8.6 million. This is against the backdrop of some $36 billion of total expenditure by local governments in this period,” Mr Hallam said.

Mr Hallam said there would always be “individuals who attempt to take advantage of the system but there is no evidence of systemic failure requiring more regulatory controls.”

Even so, he said the LGAQ will continue to work with the Queensland (state) Government “to ensure local councils can respond effectively to the risks of fraud.”

The Audit report found, through a survey of councils it conducted, that local governments in Queensland did not provide a fraud loss value for 58 per cent of their fraud cases. Some 44 per cent of councils indicated they do not have a system to manage their fraud information, the Audit Report said.
                    [post_title] => QLD councils hit back over critical fraud audit
                    [post_excerpt] => "There is no evidence of systemic failure requiring more regulatory controls"

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                    [post_content] => Fraud

 

A probe into the extent of fraud in Queensland local governments by the state’s Audit Office has found that a single council has managed to account for almost half of the alleged and confirmed rip-offs in the sector, prompting a referral to the Crime and Corruption Commission.

However the council is not yet being named publicly under Queensland’s provisions to prevent the use of corruption referrals as a form of vexatious mudslinging.

The audit report [PDF] found that while the state’s local government sector “experiences a significant level of fraudulent and corrupt activity” it was hard to accurately quantify how much fraud is going on because of poor record keeping by councils and “are inconsistencies in how, and to which authorities, fraud matters must be reported.”

Worryingly, the Queensland Audit Office also warned that spotting corruption in councils has become more difficult with a pointed reference to how council deals are awarded.

“Corruption is a significant threat to councils, but it is becoming harder to detect because of collusive behaviour between employees and suppliers. Councils have not developed the techniques they need to detect such activities early,” the Audit Report said.

In the case of the apparently aberrant local government, the Audit Office said it had performed detailed data analytics to identify potential indicators of other fraud and corruption at the council in question.

“Based on fraud indicators, we assessed the potential for further fraud and corruption at this council and formed a view that corrupt conduct may have occurred. In accordance with section 38 of the Crime and Corruption Act 2001, we referred our findings to the Crime and Corruption Commission,” the Audit report said.

The Audit Report found the most common types of fraud committed against councils was misappropriation of council assets, including theft, and “corruption by employees who use their position's authority or their access to information for personal benefit.”

To get to the bottom of ratepayer-funded rip offs, the Audit Office has recommended that the state government through the Department of Infrastructure, Local Government and Planning change regulations governing councils to compel them to officially report losses stemming from fraud as well as keeping written records of allegations.

The level of alleged fraud in Queensland’s 77 councils is certainly impressive based on a survey of local governments by the Audit Office as well as fraud report statistics provided by the Queensland Police and the CCC.

The statistics reveal 5510 alleged frauds in councils were recorded in the five years from July 2009 to June 2014, a figure that neatly breaks down to an average of 1002 alleged incidents a year.

Notably, the Queensland Audit Office is not taking the fraud statistics provided by councils to it through a survey at face value, saying that “almost two-thirds of councils surveyed (63 per cent) claimed to have had no confirmed cases of fraud over the past five-years.”

“This is inconsistent with global research undertaken in 2014 which identified 41 per cent of government organisations experienced at least one instance of economic crime, including fraud, in the past two years,” the Audit Office said.

“Councils did not provide us with a fraud loss value for 58 per cent of their fraud cases; and 44 per cent of councils indicated they do not have a system to manage their fraud information,” the Audit Report said.
                    [post_title] => Half of all QLD's local government fraud in one mystery council
                    [post_excerpt] => Referral to Crime and Corruption Commission as Auditor blasts lack of records.
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            [post_content] => [caption id="attachment_23715" align="alignnone" width="595"]Jackie Trad1 Overhauling complaints system, Jackie Trad. Pic: Facebook[/caption]

 

 The Queensland state government will recalibrate how local councils deal with complaints about mayors and councillors.

The Palaszczuk government has ordered a review into the way complaints are managed in-house, procedures left unchanged since 2009 when they were introduced.

QLD Deputy Premier Jackie Trad said she had rethought her original decision to disallow a review after getting feedback from local government stakeholders, including the Local Government Managers Association (LGMA) and Local Government Association of Queensland (LGAQ).

Ms Trad had previously declined to conduct a review into local government complaints, calling the current procedure “adequate.”

But she said she changed her mind after LGMA contacted her expressing concern about the potential for conflicts of interest for local council general managers and CEOs when handling and managing complaints.

She was also swayed by LGAQ’s voicing concerns over there being no scope to review or appeal decisions and to  “better ensure natural justice is afforded to all parties."

"These procedures have not been comprehensively reviewed since they were introduced in 2009 and this review is timely to ensure there is a modern, fair, transparent and accountable system in place to manage complaints," Ms Trad told Parliament.

"The review will examine the statutory provisions relating to complaints to assess the effectiveness of the current legislative and policy framework and make recommendations about policy, legislative and operational changes required to improve the system of dealing with complaints about councillors' conduct," she said.

The review will be conducted by an independent panel led by former Integrity Commissioner David Solomon. The panel will also include former Noosa mayor Noel Playford and former Logan City chief executive Gary Kellar with a report expected within six months.

LGAQ chief executive Greg Hallam said the need for a review of the complaints process was highlighted by “a high level of smear against candidates” during recent local government elections in Queensland.

“We want the process tightened so it can’t be used as a political tool and that is why this review is welcome,’’ Mr Hallam said.

“At the moment, there are some complaints that go to the Remuneration and Discipline Tribunal, some that are dealt with by the councils themselves and still others handled by the local government department. Trying to decide who has the remit can be difficult.”

 

 
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Jackie-Trad