Increased power to tackle councillor misconduct

The Minister for Local Government will have new powers to deal with councillor misconduct under changes to the Local Government Act 1989.

Reform will also mean councillor conduct panels will have greater powers.

Under the changes, councillors will be required to sign up to codes of conduct and councils will need to have procedures in place to deal with alleged breaches.

“We’re pleased the minister has gone ahead with these (changes),” Latrobe City mayor Dale Harriman said.

“It’ll lead to a better system with more rigid guidelines and guidelines easier for councillors to understand and follow.”

The minister will have the option to recommend to the Governor in Council that a councillor be stood down if they have 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.

Councillor Conduct Panels, which deal with allegations of misconduct or serious misconduct, will now have the power to suspend councillors for up to six months.

Under previous rules, the panels could not suspend councillors, but direct them to take a leave of absence of up to two months.

The minister is also empowered to appoint municipal monitors and to issue governance directions to councils.

“Since becoming minister, I’ve heard from councils and communities that these changes are desperately needed,” Local Government Minister Natalie Hutchins said.

“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.”

Ms Hutchins said the laws would be progressively proclaimed over the coming months to ensure councils were ready for the changes.