On 14 March 2019, I introduced the Local Government Legislation Amendment Bill 2019 to Parliament.
The focus of the first tranche of reforms is on better equipping council members to undertake their complex and important role. It also provides for greater transparency and accountability to the community.
The Bill has been developed in consultation with the local government sector, and the community.
The following requirements are included in the Bill to ensure that council members have the necessary skills to carry out their role:
- All candidates to complete an online induction prior to nominating for election so that they are fully aware of what to expect as an elected member and the rules related to campaigning.
- All council members to complete five modules of training within 12 months of being elected to office.
- All local governments to prepare and adopt a policy for ongoing professional development policy for council members.
- All local governments to annually report on the training completed by each council member.
The training will be in place for the 2019 local government elections.
Council Member Behaviour
A new mandatory code of conduct will be introduced to address the behaviour of council members. The code of conduct is to also apply to candidates. An alleged breach of the code by a candidate can be actioned when the candidate is elected. The Department of Local Government, Sport and Cultural Industries, in conjunction with the Public Sector Commission and the local government sector, has commenced developing the code of conduct. Local governments will be required to adopt a code of conduct for all employees.
To improve transparency, accountability and equity of the minor breach system, amendments are being made to the Standards Panel process to limit the time period for complaints to be lodged from two years to six months. The Panel will also be able to request that the parties to a complaint undertake mediation. The willingness and/or success of the mediation will form part of the Panel s consideration on a sanction, if any, to be imposed.
The Panel will also have the ability to order a council member to reimburse the local government for the cost of the Panel proceedings if an adverse finding has been made.
Standards for Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Recruitment
The Bill introduces a requirement for local governments to adopt minimum standards in relation to the recruitment, selection, performance review and early termination of a CEO. These standards are being developed with input from the Public Sector Commission and the sector.
To provide clarity around filling a temporary CEO vacancy, local governments will be required to develop a policy that outlines the process for this situation.
A key initiative of this Bill is the introduction of a revised gift framework. Council members are key decision makers in their district and the community expect that decisions are free from improper influence.
The focus of the provisions in the Bill is twofold: addressing the ability of gifts to influence decision-making and increasing transparency and accountability to members of the community.
The new framework will require council members and CEOs to declare any gift over $300 that is received in the capacity of council member or CEO. All these gifts must be disclosed within ten days of receipt and published on the online gift register within ten days.
The conflict of interest provisions relates to all gifts that a person receives in any capacity. The receipt of any gift over the threshold will prohibit the elected member from voting on matters before council that concern the donor of the gift for the period of their term. Approval to participate will be able to be given by the council for gifts up to $1,000; with participation approval possible from the Minister for amounts over this or where a quorum is needed.
Similar provisions apply to the CEO, including restrictions on the provision of advice.
Local governments will be required to adopt a policy that deals with attendance at events as a representative of council. A gift of a ticket to, or that otherwise relates to a person’s attendance at, an event that is in accordance with the policy will be exempted from the conflict of interest provisions. The tickets must be provided to the council, not individual council members.
Gifts from State, Federal or other local governments, WALGA, ALGA or LGPro will have to be declared but will not create a conflict of interest.
Transparency and Red Tape Reduction
The reforms in the Bill ensure that the community and other stakeholders have greater access to information held by the local government.
Local governments will be required to make information more readily available to the community and other stakeholders. Information that is currently only required to be available in the local government s office for inspection will be published on the website. Many local governments already make this information available.
Other information to be placed on the official website includes a map showing the district and ward boundaries, the annual budget, consolidated local laws, plans for the future, minutes and agendas, and Councillor attendance and allowances received.
Regulations will provide greater flexibility in advertising public notices. Notices will need to be published on the local government s official website.
The Bill also standardises the provisions for the appointment of authorised officers across other legislation in the Local Government portfolio, including the Dog Act,Cat Act and Caravan Parks and Camping Grounds Act.
The Department of Local Government, Sport and Cultural Industries will provide further information to all local governments on these reforms, including timeframes for implementation.
I thank all local governments, council members and staff who contributed to the pashe one reforms.
HON DAVID TEMPLEMAN MLA MINISTER FOR LOCAL GOVERNMENT; HERITAGE; CULTURE AND THE ARTS