Councillor Conflicts Back In The Frame

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Published by Preston Law on 28/02/2019

The Queensland Integrity Commission and the Office of the Independent Assessor (OIA) has published new material to guide local government councillors through the conflicts minefield that the Belcarra reforms introduced in late 2018, but confusion still abounds. 

In June 2018, we reported that Councils and councillors across Queensland were subject to significant changes about how they must deal with conflicts of interest and material personal interest under the Local Government Act 2009 (LGA). 

Published Documents 

The OIA has published four documents that can serve as “cheat sheets” for councillors attempting to put some certainty around their new responsibilities.  The documents are: 

  • A “Meeting Aid” for conflicts of interest; 
  • A “Meeting Aid” for material personal interests; 
  • A guideline for councillors’ duties to report; and 
  • A Guide for Local Government about Personal Interests and Official Responsibilities. 

The documents, which are available on the OIA’s website, provide some needed guidance around how the new conflict provisions in the Local Government Act 2009 will operate.  

Some useful tips offered by the OIA’s new material 

  • A suggestion that councillors document reasons for their decisions about conflicts of interest and material personal interests. This will be particularly relevant if a councillor identifies a potential personal interest, but decides that they may remain involved in the decision-making process; 
  • Where a councillor is unsure about whether to report another councillor’s material personal interest or conflict of interest, the OIA’s advice is to “err on the side of caution” and raise the concern. 

This recommendation is presumably to combat against the potential for action being taken against the councillor who fails to disclose that they are aware of another councillor’s possible conflict of interest or material personal interest. 

Even with the new material, councillors and local governments generally are continuing to grapple with the wide-ranging reforms introduced after the Crime and Corruption Commission’s “Operation Belcarra” concluded in May 2018. 

While the OIA’s new documents provide some examples and guidance notes, there is still a high level of uncertainty about how the provisions apply. 

Each situation of conflict will be so heavily fact-dependent that guidelines and meeting aids like the ones provided by the OIA will only go so far in assisting councillors and local governments in reaching the best available conclusion.

Need further advice?

Preston Law’s team of local government lawyers has decades of experience advising councillors and local governments across Queensland on sensitive matters of conflicts of interest, material personal interest, and meeting procedure and conduct.  For further advice, please contact us on 4052 0717.

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