Qld local govt watchdog can’t keep up with complaints

Queensland’s local government watchdog has been forced to boost staff to keep up with an increasing number of complaints about councillors.

Independent Assessor Kathleen Florian

A total of 1,030 councillor complaints containing 1,097 allegations have been referred to the Office of Independent Assessor this year, up from 160 two years ago.

Local government Minister Steven Miles says the OIA will get a $250,000 top-up to pay for three additional staff to cope with the workload.

“The additional funding will ensure the Office of the Independent Assessor continues to have the resourcing necessary to efficiently, effectively and transparently manage complaints about the conduct of Queensland councillors,” he said in a statement.

Keeping dodgy behaviour in check

Since its establishment the OIA has investigated a range of complaints, many of which have been referred to the Councillor Conduct Tribunal.

One of the first matters referred to it resulted in a finding that  Rockhampton Regional Council Mayor Margaret Strelow engaged in misconduct for failing to report flights and hospitality provided by mining giant Adani during a trade mission to India in 2017.

More recently, Independent Assessor Kathleen Florian announced on December 3 that Gympie Regional Councillor Dan Stewart had been fined $700 for releasing confidential information about the provision of a venue for a campervan rally on his Facebook page.

On October 16, OIA said Gold Coast City Councillor Glenn Tozer had been fined $250 for trying to get free tickets to a Cat Empire concert for his wife and himself.

And on August 31, former Cairns Regional Councillor Richie Bates was found to have engaged in misconduct for failing to declare his links with unions, from which he had previously received $3,000 in electoral donations, during enterprise bargaining negotiations.

The Queensland government, which previously managed councillor complaints, established the OAI as a statutory office in 2018 on the recommendations of a 2016 review panel report which found inadequacies in the way complaints about local government were dealt with in the state.

Mr Miles attributes the current high level of complaints to an increased focus on integrity in local government, previous under-reporting and increased confidence from whistleblowers.

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