Ombudsman addresses conflict of interest

By Rob O’Brien

The Victorian Ombudsman has urged councillors to face up to issues and stop lying during local government investigations.

In his keynote speech to the Municipal Association of Victoria (MAV) in Melbourne, the Ombudsman, George Brouwer, said that investigations he had undertaken during his tenure, including into Brimbank Council, had been stalled either by councillors refusing to confront issues or refusing to tell the truth.

In one case he cited, where a council worker was threatened with perjury, the truth only came out once a series of deleted emails had been presented that directly implicated corrupt behaviour.

“The worst thing you can do is tell lies,” Mr Brouwer told MAV delegates.

“From time to time we get very useful disclosures from senior council officers about issues that are going wrong… you’ve got councils who have been told what’s going wrong, they’re given a chance to try and deal with it, but end up not taking any notice and going down the same track again.

“We try and give some guidance and talk to people, but sometimes people don’t listen, and of course the consequences follow on from there.”

In a broad-ranging speech that included insights into the role of the Ombudsman, he advised council CEOs to be aware of the fine line between managing their operations and being compromised.

“The chief executive has to tred a very fine line in terms of servicing the council and the councillors and also managing the council itself,” he said.

“We have seen a number of incidences where the chief executive, in trying to manoeuvre that fine line, in fact has been compromised to some extent in favour of the councillors’ requirements at the expense of his duties and his responsibilities under the Local Government Act.”

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