Improved Councillor Standards Become Law
The Andrews Labor Government’s reforms to strengthen council governance and reduce councillor misconduct have been given Royal Assent.
The changes, initiated to improve the standard of behaviour for councillors, 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.
Under the changes to the Local Government Act 1989, councillors will be required to sign up to codes of conduct, while councils will need to have procedures in place to deal with alleged breaches.
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.
The Minister for Local Government will also receive new powers, including the option to recommend to the Governor in Council that a councillor be stood down from their role as councillor 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; and
- a municipal monitor recommends the Minister stand the councillor down.
The Minister is also empowered to appoint municipal monitors and to issue governance directions to councils.
The changes also prohibit ward funding, as recommended by the Local Government Investigations and Compliance Inspectorate.
Minister for Local Government Natalie Hutchins said the laws will be progressively proclaimed over the coming months to ensure councils are ready for the changes.
The changes follow widespread consultation with councils, peak bodies and communities, including through Ms Hutchins’ Mayor’s Advisory Panel.
Quotes attributable to Minister for Local Government Natalie Hutchins
“Since becoming Minister, I’ve heard from councils and communities that these changes are desperately needed.”
“By giving councils and the Victorian Government the ability to step in earlier, it will help ensure problems with councillor standards and governance aren’t left to grow.”
“While overall misconduct among Victoria’s 79 councils is rare, it is vital that our governance frameworks are robust and ready to deal with misconduct.”