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Local councillors found guilty of misconduct will face individual fines, suspension or disqualification under tougher new laws to be introduced by the Victorian government before the coming council elections.
The latest state government figures show almost 30 councillors have resigned since January while one council, Moira Shire, has been sacked and replaced by administrators.
Municipal monitors have been appointed to intervene eight times in 18 months at the Glenelg, Strathbogie, Horsham, Darebin, Wodonga, Geelong and Yarra councils.
Local Government Minister Melissa Horne will introduce new powers next year to crack down on councillor misconduct. Credit: Joe Armao
On Friday, Local Government Minister Melissa Horne is set to unveil new powers to tackle poor councillor behaviour that will allow the government to suspend or disqualify individual councillors found to have created a “risk to health and safety”.
The Chief Municipal Monitor will also gain the ability to issue infringement notices to individual councillors who breach local government laws.
Other changes will include a model code of conduct so that councils will not have to establish their own and a requirement for ongoing training for councillors.
The reforms come as a result of a 2022 “culture review” of local government launched by the former local government minister Shaun Leane.
The Independent Broad-based Anti-corruption Commission also recommended a streamlining and strengthening of councillor codes of conduct – which currently vary from council to council – in its recent final report into Operation Sandon.
Moira Shire in Cobram where the councillors were sacked.Credit: Joe Armao
The government has long signalled more severe punishments were forthcoming for poor councillor behaviour. But some councillors have pushed back on suggested reforms claiming they would undermine robust debate and concentrate more power within the bureaucracy rather than community-elected representatives.
Some have alleged that bullying and poor culture comes from council administrators towards councillors, not just between councillors themselves.
But Horne said the changes would encourage more “quality candidates” to contest the 2024 council elections.
“Victorians rightly have high expectations of their local councillors and these changes will ensure residents can have confidence their best interests are being served,” she said.
Glenelg Shire is the latest local government to become subject to oversight from municipal monitors following a request for intervention by the mayor due to concerns about the council’s culture.
A municipal monitor has been appointed to guide the City of Greater Geelong. Credit: Justin McManus
The government said it would consult the local council sector about legislation to enact the reforms. It plans to introduce the new legislation in the first quarter of next year.
Swinburne University governance expert and adjunct professor Ken Coghill said councillor conduct and training had improved recently.
“But with the best will in the world there are still people who will go off the rails,” he said. “That makes it all the more important that other councillors and staff take their responsibility to uphold standards very seriously.”
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