Thursday, April 25, 2024

LGAQ welcomes timely progress on complaint reforms

The Local Government Association of Queensland (LGAQ) has welcomed today’s progress on proposed legislative reforms to overhaul the state’s councillor complaints system.

LGAQ chief executive officer, Alison Smith (pictured) thanked the State Government and Deputy Premier and Minister for Local Government Steven Miles for introducing the changes to Parliament before the end of the current council term.

“For too long, the council complaints process established under the Office of the Independent Assessor has not been functioning as it should,” Ms Smith said.

“The current system has been more focused on generating complaints, rather than regulating conduct.”

The proposed reforms:

  • introduce a new statutory preliminary assessment process, including a time limitation for the receipt of complaints, notices and information about councillor conduct. 
  • introduce an administrative process to declare a person a vexatious complainant
  • remove requirements for certain details to be published in a local government’s councillor conduct register
  • remove the provision of ‘training’ from the functions of the OIA
  • introduce 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
  • update natural justice requirements in relation to suspected conduct breaches
  • redefine a breach of a local government’s acceptable requests guidelines as a ‘conduct breach’ and makes other changes to the conduct definitions
  • recognise the provision of official departmental advice to councillors.

She said a robust, independent and efficient councillor conduct regime was critical to the functioning of the local government sector.

“But for this regime to work, it must strengthen the ability of councils to represent their local communities, not hamper the ability of mayors and councillors to do the job their communities elected them to do.”

“We thank the State Government for listening to the concerns of the local government sector, agreeing to establish a Parliamentary Inquiry into the concerns raised last year, accepting all 40 recommendations from the inquiry, and now progressing these changes with reforms introduced to Parliament today.”

Ms Smith said the Association and its members had been calling for the reforms to be progressed before the end of the local government four-year term, given “the risk that good people would not run” in the March 2024 council elections unless they knew improvements to the councillor complaints system would be made.

“As we have said all the way through this process, mayors and councillors should be able to speak out on issues of importance to their local communities without the fear of being reprimanded, penalised or having their reputations irreparably damaged.”

“They should also be able to moderate their social media sites to protect themselves from racial abuse, and help the local pastor access a spare set of keys to conduct a Sunday church service without incurring lengthy investigations and potential penalties for simply doing their job,” she said.

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