Council code of conduct cracks down on gifts, bullies

NSW council officials will be banned from harassing, belittling, teasing, spreading rumours and playing practical jokes on colleagues under a tough new code of conduct that comes into force next month.

Councillors will also no longer be able to accept gifts worth more than $50 and will have to disclose if they are a developer or a close associate of one.

The new Model Code of Conduct for Local Councils, which sets minimum standards for councilors, administrators, staff and council committee members in NSW, comes into force from June.

It affects more than 45,000 staff and nearly 1,300 councillors at 128 councils across NSW and must be adopted, without ‘dilution’, by June 14, the state government says.

Regaining confidence in local government

The new code, which is designed to boost confidence in local government, tightens rules on gifts and benefits, putting a 12-month, $50 cap on gifts including invitations to sporting events, alcohol, chocolates, flowers, prizes and awards.

The code bans harassment, discrimination and bullying including exclusion from work related events, unreasonable work expectations, initiation ceremonies and displaying offensive material.

“Reasonable management action carried out in a reasonable manner” does not constitute bullying, the code stipulates.

The code provides for Councillors to be denied access to information about matters they have pecuniary interests in and requires them to declare all new interests within three months.

Failure of councilors to comply with the standards will be considered misconduct resulting in suspension or disqualification from civic office.  Three strikes will result in an automatic five year ban.

 It also warns council officials against using the guidelines to make trivial, frivolous or vexatious reports, or to bully, intimidate or gain advantage.

The code is designed to help council officials understand what’s expected of them and to fulfil their statutory duty to act honestly and with care and diligence, the state government says.

The peak body for local government in NSW has been holding workshops to prepare council staff and councillors for the new code and has warned members that the code is a legal document and all officials are obliged to understand and follow it.

“Council officials play a vital role in serving local communities,” LGNSW says in a memo to members. “To do this effectively, they need to uphold the highest standards of behaviour to ensure communities have trust and confidence in local government.”

Key changes

  • It incorporates the pecuniary interest provisions previously contained in the Local Government Act 1993 and Regulation
  • New standards relating to discrimination and harassment, bullying, work health and safety, behaviour at meetings, access to information and maintenance of council records
  • New rules governing the acceptance of gifts including mandatory reporting and new ongoing disclosure requirement for councillors and designated persons requiring disclosure of new interests in returns of interests within three months of becoming aware of them
  • Councillors will be required to disclose in their returns of interests whether they are a property developer or a close associate of a property developer.

The code is available here.

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