A review of councillors by Victoria’s local government integrity agency has found more than half aren’t completing their personal interest returns in accordance with their legislated requirements.
Of the 650 councillors reviewed, 332 did not complete their returns in compliance with the Local Government Act, the Local Government Inspectorate found.
The project, looking at 4,600 councillor returns between October 2016 and February 2020, involved a high-level review of councillor personal interest returns from 61 councils and a detailed review of councillors from 17 councils.
“We embarked on the review because the Inspectorate and other integrity agencies have identified incomplete and inadequate personal interest disclosures are a historical and ongoing issue affecting the local government sector,” Chief Municipal Inspector Michael Stefanovic AM said.
The review found:
- half of the 650 councillors had failed to submit accurate records of their personal interests
- two out of every five councillors failed to disclose interests in one or more of their returns – or failed to submit a return at all
- councillors failed to disclose interests in trusts, property and office positions held
- councillors routinely declared interests inconsistently.
During the review, the inspectorate surveyed selected councillors and council officers and were told that improved guidance was needed, in simple language, and including relevant examples.
There was also a clear message that more education and oversight was needed to improve compliance.
The personal interests returns scheme was amended with the introduction of the Local Government Act 2020. In August 2021, the inspectorate assessed compliance with the new requirement for councils to publish a summary of all personal interests returns.
It also reviewed the websites of all 79 councils and found that three councils did not have a summary published at all and a further 13 had not published the summary of the biannual personal interest returns of March 2021.
“Compliance needs to be improved through better oversight and enforcement with a view to raising the level of compliance and public trust in their local representatives,” Mr Stefanovic said.
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