Local Government Reform Needed

Currently there are 5 Councils in Queensland being investigated by the Crime and Corruption Commission for alleged corruption by councillors and/or officers. 

This, plus the Community and SEQ Alliances’ own experiences with local councils has led to advocacy with the Minister for Local Government for some reforms over and above the Belcarra Reforms. There is a strong link or nexus between alleged council corruption and planning assessment approvals, which has been raised with both the Minister for Local Government, Hon Stirling Hinchliffe, and the Minister for Planning, Hon. Cameron Dick.

It is Gecko Environment Council’s understanding that all Councillors and Council are expected to operate within the framework of the Local Government Principles set out in Section 4 (2)of the Local Government Act, 2009.

The local government principles are:

  • transparent and effective processes, and decision-making in the public interest; and
  • sustainable development and management of assets and infrastructure, and delivery of effective services; and
  • democratic representation, social inclusion and meaningful community engagement; and
  • good governance of, and by, local government; and
  • ethical and legal behaviour of councillors and local government employees.

The current situation is as follows:-

  • Belcarra Reforms Stage I are enacted in Local Government Electoral (Implementing Belcarra) and Other Legislation Amendment Act 2017 which prohibits the making of political donations by property developers to candidates in State or local government elections, groups of candidates in local government elections, third parties, political parties, councillors and Members of State Parliament.
  • The amended Local Government Act (LGA) and the City of Brisbane Act (COBA) to strengthen requirements for how a councillor must deal with a real or perceived conflict of interest or a material personal interest. The Minister is also able to suspend any councillor charged with a “disqualifying offence” and to dismiss or suspend any councillor or mayor in the public interest.

Local Government (Councillor Complaints) and Other Legislation Amendment Act 2018 establishes the Independent Assessor and the Office of the Independent Assessor to investigate and deal with the conduct of councillors where it is alleged or suspected to be inappropriate conduct, misconduct or, when referred to the Independent Assessor by the CCC, corrupt conduct. A key component of these reforms includes removing a council’s Chief Executive Officer (CEO) and the Department from the process of making preliminary assessments of complaints. Kathleen Florian, who has extensive experience in investigating complaints about council conduct was appointed as the Independent Assessor. www.dlgrma.qld.gov.au/office-of-the-independent-assessor

Belcarra Reforms Stage 2 and other reforms are currently being considered by the Minister for Local Government, Stirling Hinchliffe.Meeting with Minister for Local Government: The SEQ Alliance has written several submissions to the Minister outlining our concerns and on 19th November five community representatives from the Alliance met with the Minister, his staff and representatives from the Dept. of Planning. (see below for these documents).

The issues raised with the Minister include:

  • Failure of councillors to be open and transparent in decision making;
  • inadequate or missing minutes of meetings;
  • secret meetings with no minutes;
  • withholding of council reports from public scrutiny;
  • overuse of Right to Information legislation to prevent community access to documents;
  • overuse of redaction of information in reports of concern to the public;
  • failure to record mayoral directives to the Chief Executive Officer;
  • decisions that favour the development industry over the community interest;
  • operating with a voting bloc;
  • need to change the powers of the mayors so that they must consult on the budget;
  • need to remove mayoral power to give directives to senior officers and overuse of delegated authority in making decisions.

In addition to these matters the Minister requested feedback on:

  • changes to the method of electing the Mayor by the councillors rather than whole of city;
  • reducing the number of divisions and having 2 councillors per division;
  • a question time in council meetings to reduce the influence of bloc voting;
  • funding caps on election spending to make it a more level playing field for those with limited funds;
  • improvements in transparency with minutes, redactions in reports and Right to Information;
  • implementation of councillor diaries so the community knows who they met with;
  • improved community consultation.

Meeting with Tim Dunne, Strategic Policy Manager with Dept. of Local Government on 19th December was held at Robina Community Centre and attended by representatives of 17 community organisations. Mr Dunne has been travelling throughout Queensland for some months talking with communities about reform of local government and will release a report on his findings by mid 2019.  He advised those present that the issues were similar throughout Queensland.

The same matters were raised with Mr Dunne as the Minister, but a few additional ones were:

  1. The Qld Audit Office is recommending that community consultation should take place prior to preparation of the budget.
  2. The Minister intervening if the matter is one of abuse of the public interest
  3. Caps on campaign expenditure of $50,000 for mayors and $10,000 for councillors
  4. Two terms of 4 years only and then break of one term before about to stand again.
  5. LGAQ – the Minutes of these meetings should be available to the public.
  6. Beneficial Enterprises to be subject to RTI and investigation by CCC.

Partners in Government Agreement

This document was signed between the State Government and Local Governments in 2015 and enables Council to conduct its business with minimal interference from State Government. https://www.dlgrma.qld.gov.au/resources/policy/local-government/partners-in-government-agreement-2015.pdf

It is currently being reviewed and members of the public can make submissions.

Gecko raised concerns with both the Minister and Mr Dunne that perhaps the hands-off approach of this Agreement had contributed to the problems with local government in Queensland.

Documents submitted on this subject are:

  • 20181226_ltr_Min_LOG_ReformofcouncilSEQA_final;
  • 20181119_SUB_MinLocal Government(Gecko);
  • 20181209_Ltr_MinLoc.Govt> final.