Local Government Professionals Victoria (LGPro) has welcomed the Victorian Government’s newly announced reforms to address councillor misconduct.
LGPro President, Liana Thompson says the flagged changes largely mirror the recommendations outlined in the organisation’s case for reform submitted to Local Government Minister, Melissa Horne in February as part of Local Government Victoria’s ongoing review into issues of culture and conduct in the state’s councils.
“Having worked on this issue since at least 2020, I am delighted to see the Minister’s considered response to the sector’s call for change and this genuine collaboration,” said Ms Thompson.
“LGPro emphasised that legislation relating to councillor conduct must be considered as part of a broader policy framework aimed at encouraging good governance. It has always been important that councillors are equipped to understand what inappropriate conduct looks like and why it erodes the concept of good governance. Minister Horne has taken perspectives like these into account and has come back to the sector with a nuanced reply that I am excited to work collaboratively from.
“LGPro’s advocacy was always about a measured, appropriate response to rare but disproportionately damaging instances of councillor misconduct. Minister Horne’s reform announcement is a sign that the Victorian Government is listening to councils and the communities we serve on this issue, and we commend the Minister for this tangible contribution to positive change.”
She said LGPro research had found that poor councillor behaviour unaddressed by the current conduct framework has led to exorbitant expenses on councils, reputational damage from instituting monitors on councils, dysfunction in Councillor groups, and the loss of professionals who leave the sector.
The Minister has outlined specific reforms including mandatory training for elected representatives, a uniform councillor code of conduct, and strengthened powers for both the Chief Municipal Inspector and the Minister.
Enhanced powers for the Chief Municipal Inspector are to include the ability to issue infringement notices while strengthened powers for the Minister to address councillor conduct are to include the ability to suspend or disqualify individual councillors found to have created risks to health and safety or prevented the council from performing its function.
The reforms also include non-legislative changes such as the resourcing of institutions that support the appropriate functioning of Victorian councils like the Local Government Inspectorate and investing in education and training.
The reforms, including amendments to the Local Government Act 2020, will address recent recommendations made by integrity bodies such as the Independent Broad-based Anti corruption Commission (IBAC) and the Chief Municipal Inspector. Substantive detail is yet to be announced, pending sector consultation.
“LGPro will work with the Victorian Government and the local government sector’s peak bodies to ensure change that promotes good governance and safer councils for staff and elected officials alike ahead of the planned introduction of the legislation in the first quarter of 2024 and the development of regulations for the councillor model code of conduct and mandatory training,” said Ms Thompson.
The relevant legislation is expected to be introduced ahead of the 2024 local government elections.