New laws crack down on councillor misconduct

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Melbourne: New laws introduced by the Andrews Labor Government to strengthen council governance and crack down on councillors doing the wrong thing takes effect from March 1.

Under amendments to the Local Government Act passed last year, councils now have greater authority to deal with councillor misconduct internally – including new and improved procedures to address alleged code of conduct breaches, an official press release said.

The changes provide a clear process for dealing with misconduct and empower councils and the Minister for Local Government to take action against councillors doing the wrong thing.

Allegations of misconduct and serious misconduct will be dealt with by independent Councillor Conduct Panels, which will have the power to suspend councillors for up to six months.

In extreme cases of poor behaviour, the Minister can now also recommend to the Governor in Council that a councillor be stood down if:

  • the councillor has been accused of serious or gross misconduct and a panel or VCAT hearing is pending
  • the councillor’s behaviour represents a threat to health and safety, is preventing council from performing its functions, or is inconsistent with the role of councillor
  • a municipal monitor recommends the Minister stand the councillor down

Councillors retain a right of appeal to VCAT but can no longer bypass Councillor Conduct Panels and have hearings moved to VCAT, before a final decision is made.

These changes are part of the Labor Government’s agenda to reform the local government sector, including a review of the Local Government Act and the introduction of the Fair Go Rates systems to put an end to the uncontrollable rate hikes we’ve seen in recent years. (TIW)