Councillor conduct reform bill enters parliament

The Municipal Association of Victoria (MAV) has welcomed the introduction of the Local Government Amendment Bill 2008, saying strengthening the councillor conduct provisions would boost community confidence in the performance of elected representatives.

“The MAV first called for independent conduct panels to be established in 2006. Extensive research was undertaken and councils were widely consulted to develop a sector position as current legislation deals mostly with sanctions for whole councils, not individuals,” MAV president Dick Gross said.

The reforms include the introduction of principles of councillor conduct, to form part of councils’ codes of conduct, and the establishment of conduct panels with powers to sanction councillors for breaches.

Cr Gross said the use of councillor conduct panels on a needs basis would provide councils with external support to deal with minor breaches of their code, while maintaining their primary responsibility for dealing with conduct matters.

“A panel could instruct a councillor to make an apology, attend mediation, training or counselling. More serious breaches would be dealt with by the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal and could result in suspension or disqualification,” he said.

He said one of the key changes proposed was for identifying and managing conflicts of interest provisions, which have long been seen as “a convoluted mess” by local government.

Under the new provisions, a councillor who has declared a conflict of interest cannot participate in the debate or vote on that issue, with council staff also becoming subject to conflict of interest disclosures.

“The MAV is pleased that the reforms propose clearer guidance to ensure councillors can better apply the conflict of interest rules in an unambiguous way,” he said.

“The reputation of the sector is too easily undermined by infrequent but highly-publicised accusation of misbehaviour and inappropriate conduct.

“The vast majority of councillors behave in an appropriate manner and the proposed reforms will hopefully increase confidence in the decisions and responsibilities that are entrusted to councils,” Cr Gross said.

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