Progressive reforms mean local government must now step up

When it comes to compliance, it’s not a case of one size fits all, writes Deborah Coram.

Deborah Coram

In the case of local government, the requirements – for Victoria at least – have changed dramatically with the introduction of the Local Government Act 2020, passed by State Government last year and inclusive of sweeping reforms designed to improve accountability, integrity, and transparency.

It comes off the back of a tumultuous decade for the state, where council government politics has been rocked by multiple sensational scandals.

There was the investigation into Casey Council, where a property developer allegedly bribed councillors to vote in favour of his projects. This led to the sacking of the Council and an ongoing criminal investigation.

Whittlesea Council was sacked in March last year, with the State Government monitor claiming the local government authority was “broken” after four years of scandals, police investigations and poor decision-making.

And South Gippsland Shire Council was sacked in June of 2019 after six resignations, conflict and dysfunction plagued the council for more than a year.

Big changes for councils

So, what does the Local Government Act 2020 mean for councils Victoria?

Touted as the most ambitious and comprehensive reform of Victorian local government in three decades, the new Act has five driving principles: community engagement; public transparency; strategic planning; financial management; and service performance.

Notably, the Act includes a mandatory councillor conduct framework which requires council CEOs to implement a publicly available code of conduct for councillors that is line with the underpinning principles in the new Act. This had to be in place by February of this year.

Up next under the Act is the implementation of a conflict of interest framework that must be implemented and inducted by June 2021.

Also key is the provision of a clear accountability framework for good governance and decision-making.

Fundamentals of good governance

Part of good governance is having the right systems embedded to keep up with legislative changes, and training staff to understand and comply with the current legal requirements.

Compliance training is not a one-time activity, councils should be reviewing their operations to ensure they have rigorous processes in place to deliver long-term accountability and transparency.

Code of conduct documents are essential to any organisation but are only worth the paper they’re printed on if staff aren’t effectively trained.

Implementation of the new Local Government Act is a daunting task for leaders, but in time it will prove to be a welcome improvement for local government in Victoria.

*Deborah Coram is the Director & CEO of governance and compliance consultants Safetrac

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One thought on “Progressive reforms mean local government must now step up

  1. The state of Transparency and Accountability of Our shires at this stage with the Implementation of the Local Government Act 2020 has given the Councils more ability to use interpretation on transparency issues. Already having four FOI requests in, all now sittings with the Commissioner and not a reply in view. One has been back and forth to the Ombudsman for over twenty four months
    The system needs good strong management and governance to ensure that it assists the community and is not interpreted as a weapon for the councils to use against the community and The Ombudsman not enforce.
    This could be a very good situation but while we have no over riding body ensuring the rules are met, this is and will continue to be a tool used to hide transparency from the community .
    Just not good enough.

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