‘Perks of the job’ culture of entitlement endemic in local councils


An Victorian Ombudsman investigation into the misuse of council resources has uncovered a pervading sense of entitlement among council staff.

The report, Investigation into the Misuse of Council Resources, was tabled in the Victorian Parliament yesterday (Thursday) and reveals a legion of minor misdemeanours where staff at councils in Victoria routinely broke codes of conduct and acted as if they were above the law.

You can read the full report here.

The cases were across metropolitan, outer metropolitan and regional councils and included:

  • A council officer who pressurised a contractor into paving his mother’s driveway in exchange for more work
  • A council officer filled up his own car with free petrol for two years using a council fuel card
  • Staff using council machinery and equipment outside of work
  • A manager who employed and promoted his close relative and employed two family members in his unit

Victorian Ombudsman Deborah Glass said poor culture and bad behaviour appeared to be endemic within local government in Victoria.

“The amounts involved are not huge in comparison with recent corruption scandals but it is precisely the fact that they do not involve big sums that makes the wrongdoing so pernicious,” Ms Glass said.

“Local officials who either do not recognise that their conduct is wrong but see it as a perk of the job, or who think they can get away with it because no one will notice.”

The investigation has shone the spotlight on what can be done to tackle the situation: tightening up policies and instigating better monitoring and enforcement of them.

Ms Glass said: “Despite codes of conduct requiring officials to act with integrity and avoid conflicts of interest, and despite the many people working honestly in the sector, too many people still do not recognise that these codes apply to them, or simply do not care.”

She said the compliance and enforcement of codes of conduct were inconsistent and relied on whistleblowers speaking out, rather than on good governance and supervision.

Also, fear of reprisals and losing work often prevented contractors from speaking out about dodgy dealings they had with council officers.

“It was evident from my investigations that longstanding employees who have not adopted new codes and policies as their cultural norm present a particular risk, exacerbated where outlying units remote from head office can operate as fiefdoms,” Ms Glass concluded.

She said it was also the responsibility of council’s leadership team to actively support a culture of honesty, transparency and courage to call out behaviour when people transgressed.

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