States crack down on misbehaving councillors, vexatious complaints

Victoria and Queensland are cracking down on misbehaving councillors and vexatious complaints, with new legislation flagged in Victoria, and changes to Queensland’s councillor conduct system passing into law.

Liana Thompson

Victorian Local Government minister Melissa Horne announced last Friday that legislation to be introduced early next year will raise governance and integrity standards in the state’s 79 councils.

Proposed reforms include mandatory training for elected representatives, a uniform councillor code of conduct, and more teeth for both the Chief Municipal Inspector and the Minister.

If the legislation is passed, the Chief Municipal Inspector will be able to issue infringement notices, while the Minister will have the power to suspend or disqualify individual councillors.

“Having a model code of conduct and mandatory training makes sense and extend reforms we introduced before the last council elections,” Ms Horne said.

“They will help encourage quality candidates to come forward for the 2024 polls.”

Almost 30 Victorian councillors have resigned since January, while municipal monitors have been appointed eight times in 18 months, including most recently at Glenelg Shire, while Moira Shire Council was sacked and replaced with administrators after a long history of dysfunction including a murder.

Local government professionals welcome reforms

The body representing local government professionals in Victoria has welcomed the reforms.

“The reforms announced by Minister Horne … address concerns raised by the sector, the community, and the state’s integrity agencies,” LGPro President Liana Thompson said.

She said the proposed changes are largely in line with LGPro’s case for reform submitted as part of Local Government Victoria’s review of culture and conduct in the sector.

LGPro research confirmed that poor councillor behaviour unaddressed by the current conduct framework has led to expenses and reputational damage for councils, and the loss of professionals who have fled the sector, Ms Thompson said.

Ms Horne said the Government will consult with the sector about developing regulations for the councillor model code of conduct and mandatory training.

The legislation is planned to be introduced in the first quarter of 2024.

New era for Queensland councillor complaints system

Meanwhile, the Queensland parliament last week passed a major overhaul of the state’s councillor complaints system, which includes measures to rid the system of vexatious complainants.

Alison Smith

It comes after a parliamentary inquiry into concerns about the way the complaints systems had been functioning under the Office of the Independent Commissioner.

The legislation was introduced into parliament in September.

The reforms have been welcomed by the state’s peak local government body, which says the previous system had been focused on generating complaints rather than regulating conduct.

“For this regime to work, it must strengthen the ability of the local government sector to represent Queensland’s local communities – it must not hamper the ability of mayors and councillors to do the job their communities elected them and expect them to do,” LGAQ CEO Alison Smith said.

Key reforms include:

  • A new statutory preliminary assessment process, including a time limitation for the receipt of complaints, notices and information about councillor conduct.
  • Introduction of an administrative process to declare a person a vexatious complainant
  • Removal of requirements for certain details to be published in a local government’s councillor conduct register
  • Introduction of a preliminary assessment process that the OIA must undertake to determine how best to deal with a complaint, including a time limitation

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