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3 March 2023

Councils welcome fresh approach to complaints

The Coalition Government’s pledge of a fresh approach to complaints against councillors has been welcomed by the local government sector, along with proposals to establish independent conduct review panels and better training to support councillors in their roles.

Local Government Minister Wendy Tuckerman today announced a returned Coalition Government would legislate for a new accountability framework involving an independent Councillor Conduct Commissioner, supported by a number of equally independent review panels and more extensive mandatory training for councillors.

The peak body for councils said the new approach, scheduled for implementation in 2024 if the Coalition was returned on 25 March, would help reduce vexatious or politically motivated complaints about councillors.

“A new approach has the potential to better protect the integrity of the complaints process by ensuring  independent investigation and review,” Local Government NSW President Darriea Turley said.

“You only need to look at recent headlines to see that the current system has scope for improvement.

“I make no comment on any of these cases, other than to say that clear, well-understood rules, along with independent review and timely enforcement, are absolutely critical to maintain public trust in the democratic process.

“LGNSW will always support moves to improve transparency and accountability at all levels of government.”

Cr Turley said the existing system for the resolution of councillor misconduct complaints by the Office of Local Government was effectively broken due to unclear systems, insufficient resourcing and limited available sanctions for properly proven cases of misconduct.

“For many, many years now councils have been calling out for a more timely and properly funded process in which everybody – councils, the community and the State Government – can have full confidence,” she said.

“We welcome this fresh, new approach and its independent process with appropriate sanctions and a clear commitment to natural justice.”

The key planks of the proposed new approach followed recommendations from a review of the existing councillor conduct framework delivered to the Government by former Queensland council general manager Gary Kellar PSM in October 2022.

They included:

  • The appointment of an Independent Councillor Conduct Commissioner and a series of independent conduct review panels
  • Stronger mandatory training of councillors in meeting procedures and collaborative working; the role of the general manager and the relationship between that role and councillors; local government planning and financials
  • Meaningful deterrents and sanctions for misconduct.

“It’s become a  cliché to say the devil is in the detail, but I am greatly encouraged by the Coalition Government’s commitment to ensure councils via LGNSW are fully involved in the design of the roadmap required to implement these proposals,” Cr Turley said.

“We’ll be working to ensure not only that the roadmap involves effective and genuinely independent complaint handling, but that it also does not impose unreasonable costs on councils that divert funds away from community infrastructure and services.

“The Minister has foreshadowed that legislation would go before Parliament at the end of 2023 for implementation early in 2024, allowing sufficient time for the new complaints system to be fully embedded before the next local government elections in September 2024.

“We look forward to helping to ensure the final form of any new approach is fit for purpose and will operate in the best interests of the people of NSW.”