Information leaks concern watchdog

There has been a concerning increase in allegations about Victorian councillors leaking confidential information, the state’s local government watchdog says.

“Many of the cases we have investigated appear to involve councillors misusing their position to benefit themselves, friends or business associates,” the Chief Municipal Inspector says in a recent Local Government Inspectorate communication.

The Inspectorate says recent complaints data has shown “disturbing” cases of councillors leaking information for personal or political reasons without considering the effect this could have on both the business of council and community confidence.

“Complaints related to the release of confidential information have increased in 2018/19 and recent Inspectorate investigations have revealed some troubling cases of repeat disclosures of confidential information by councillors to members of the public or the media,” the email says.

Government News sought comment from the Municipal Association of Victoria but a spokeswoman said without having access to the Inspectorate’s complaints data MAV did not wish to comment.

Councillors at centre of investigations

The Inspectorate says over the last two years it has commenced proceedings against a number of councillors related to the misuse of information including Ben Buckley (East Gippsland Shire), Chris Healy (Murrindindi) and a South Gippsland Shire councilor who is yet to have the allegations heard in court.

Mr Healy was last October convicted on five charges of misuse of position and ordered to pay a $10,000 fine plus $20,000 in costs. He has appealed the conviction.

Two findings of misconduct were made against Cr Buckley by a councilor conduct panel and he was suspended for four months in August 2017, a decision which was upheld by the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal on appeal.

Many other alleged cases of leaking were yet to reach the threshold for prosecution, the Inspectorate said, mainly because of the difficulty of finding conclusive evidence.

The Inspectorate said councilors and local government administrators must be mindful of their responsibilities under the Local Government Act, and also need to be aware when information is confidential under the Act.

More information is available in the Good Governance Guide.

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