Proposed amendments to the Local Government Act 2009 and the Local Government Regulation 2012 through the introduction of the Local Government (Councillor Conduct) and Other Legislation Amendment Bill 2023 (“the Bill”) on 13 September 2023, responds to the recommendations of the independent councillor complaints review panel’s report, ‘Councillor Complaints Review: A fair, effective and efficient framework’.
The reforms proposed by the Bill look to focus on the regulation of the conduct of councillors rather than the generation of complaints to the Independent Assessor (“the IA”).
Some of the key changes to the Local Government Act 2009 (“the LGA”) proposed by the Bill:
- introduces a preliminary assessment process that the IA must undertake to determine how best to deal with a complaint, notice or information about councillor conduct, including a time limitation for accepting the complaint, notice or information about councillor conduct;
- amends the term ‘inappropriate conduct’ to ‘conduct breach’;
- limits the application of the councillor conduct complaints system for former councillors to only those suspected of ‘corrupt conduct’;
- requires the model procedures for the conduct of local government meetings to state how the councillors at a meeting may deal with the chairperson’s unsuitable meeting conduct;
- amends the investigation policy requirements under section 150AE to require a report to be prepared about each investigation and include a procedure about when the local government may decide not to start or discontinue an investigation;
- removes requirements for certain details to be published in a local government’s councillor conduct register, such as when a complaint has been dismissed or no action taken by the IA;
- requires the publication of suspected conduct breach investigation reports and summaries (with appropriate redactions) and clarifies related meeting requirements;
- expands the circumstances where the conflict of interest provisions do not apply, for example where the matter relates solely to the preparation, adoption or amendment of a budget or other document required by the regulation to be adopted by the local government;
- expands the circumstances where a councillor does not have a declarable conflict of interest, such as where the conflict of interest arises solely because the councillor is or has been a member of a group of candidates for an election (or previous election) with another councillor;
- introduces a mandatory ‘approved councillor training’ requirement;
- introduces an administrative process for the IA to declare a person a vexatious complainant;
- redefines a breach of a local government’s acceptable requests guidelines as a ‘conduct breach’; and
- recognises the provision of official departmental advice to councillors.
What does this mean for local governments?
In addition to being aware of the upcoming changes, the main focus for local governments will be reviewing current policies, particularly in relation to its acceptable request guidelines and investigation policies to align with the amendments to the LGA once they come into effect.
Should you require any further information or would like to know how we may be able to assist, please contact our Local Government Team at Preston Law.