Councillor complaints under State spotlight

Queensland Government is reviewing its councillor complaints process for dealing with 'bad apples'

The Queensland Government is reviewing its process for dealing with ‘bad apples’ in local councils

The councillor complaints process is being reviewed by the Queensland Government and you have until 23 September to make comments and suggestions for improvement.

Queensland has a well established process for people to make complaints (allegations) of corrupt conduct, misconduct or inappropriate conduct against local councillors.

Complaints can be assessed and determined by a Council, the Department of Local Government or the Crime and Corruption Commission.

Each year many councillor complaints are made and investigated. Most complaints are found to lack substance but some are found to be valid and offending councillors are penalised.

Review of the complaints process

Deputy Premier Jackie Trad has initiated a review of the councillor complaints process by an independent panel with the following members:

  • Dr David Solomon (Chair), formerly the Queensland Integrity Commisioner
  • Gary Kellar, former CEO of Logan City
  • Noel Playford, former Mayor of Noosa Shire

Public comments are now sought in response to a discussion paper which identifies the following areas of concern:

  • Purpose and scope of the complaints system
  • Legislative framework
  • Efficiency and effectiveness
  • Offences and penalties
  • Roles of CEOs, Mayors and the Department
  • Procedural fairness and natural justice
  • Protection against reprisal
  • Costs

Three broad options for change are put forward in the discussion paper:

  • Incremental improvement to the current system of councillor complaints
  • Devolve more investigative responsibility to councils, with support from existing agencies such as the Ombudsman
  • Centralise and streamline the process with a tribunal as the over-arching investigative and disciplinary body for all aspects of councillor conduct complaints other than corrupt conduct

Redland City’s councillor complaints

46 complaints about Redland City councillors have been dealt with by the Council or the Department since the beginning of 2012.

These complaints were about allegations of misconduct, inappropriate conduct and in some instances ‘another matter’.

Eight complaints were found to be partly or wholly substantiated. Other complaints were found to be “not substantiated” or “lacking in substance” and one was dismissed as being “vexatious”. A few complaints have been “withdrawn” or “discontinued”.

Redlands2030 understands that some of the 46 complaints were lodged by elected councillors against their political opponents, often anonymously.

Details of resolved complaints can be found in the Councillor General Complaints Register.

Complaints referred to the Department of Local Government

In the two years to 30 June 2016, 396 complaints (allegations) against local councillors in Queensland were referred to the Department of Local Government (Discussion Paper page 15).

Type of complaint 2014/15 2015/16 Total
Corrupt conduct 35 96 131
Misconduct 73 83 156
Inappropriate conduct 42 67 109
Total 150 246 396

Of the 245 complaints to the Department which were finalised, 30 (12%) were upheld leading to penalties being applied.

Complaints to the Crime and Corruption Commission

From 2008-9 to 2014-5 there were 1,275 complaints about councillors made to the Crime and Corruption Commission (CCC).

The Discussion Paper says (page 16):

Of note is the steady decline in the number of allegations against councillors since 2012, which coincides with an overall reduction in the number of public sector complaints received by the CCC. This is likely due to amendments to the CC Act which commenced on 1 July 2014. In particular the tighter definition of corrupt conduct; the raising of the threshold to notify the CCC of corrupt conduct by public officials; and the imposition of a statutory declaration to accompany a complaint. Perceptions about the nature of the CCC’s role may also have changed due to amendments requiring the CCC to focus on more serious cases of corrupt conduct and systemic corrupt conduct.

Issues for consideration about councillor complaints

Possible ideas or issues already raised with Redlands2030 include:

  • Expectations of councillors’ conduct in relation to declaration of political donations should be clarified including an explicit requirement that the councillors should not participate in any council meetings, workshops or other discussions  where there is a possible conflict of interest arising from the political donation
  • The complaints process should be procedurally fair to the person making the complaint and to the councillor who is the subject of the complaint
  • A council’s Mayor and CEO should not have any role in disciplining elected councillors
  • Complaints should be able to be assessed on a “pattern of behaviour” rather than on proving specific breaches of law or codes of conduct
  • Serious complaints against public officials should be assessed on the “balance of probability” rather than “beyond reasonable doubt”

Community input to a Redlands2030 submission

The review panel is seeking comments and ideas to help them assess the effectiveness of the current process for handling complaints against councillors.

Here are links to the discussion paper and two background papers:

A comprehensive community based submission is being prepared by Redlands2030 . You can have a say by commenting on this post or you can email comments to thereporter@2030.net. Comments will be collated into a Redlands2030 submission post making recommendations about the policy, legislation and operational changes needed to improve the complaints system.

The cut off date for inclusion of comments in the Redlands2030’s submission is 16 September.

To respond individually to the discussion paper or provide any other feedback directly to the Review Panel:

  • email your submission to ComplaintsReviewPanel@dilgp.qld.gov.au
  • post your submission to: Councillor Complaints Review Panel, c/o The Project Manager, PO Box 15000, City East, Queensland 4002

Submissions to the Review Panel close on 23 September 2016.

 

Redlands2030 – 31 August 2016

Please note: Offensive or off-topic comments will be deleted. If offended by any published comment please email thereporter@redlands2030.net

3 thoughts on “Councillor complaints under State spotlight

  1. Prevention is far better than cure and there are a few steps that should be taken to avoid placing temptation in the way of councillors. Some of these however might be deemed outside the terms of reference of the enquiry as they don’t amount to a complaints process. But colleagues over coffee suggested:

    * Ban campaign donations from property developers and estate agents.

    * A prohibition on anyone who is or has been within the previous five years a property developer or estate agent from standing for office.

    * All Council meetings except those dealing with staff matters and litigation should be held in open Council. This includes all town planning matters and meetings of any planning committee.

    * A strong definition of public interest to be promulgated widely and embedded in subordinate legislation as well as in the complaints process. The public interest is not to be contemplated with the interest of business or the economic interest of the community.

  2. The process needs to be balanced but the criminal test of “beyond reasonable doubt” should not apply to those who hold offices of trust. Public officials should be judged on the “balance of probability” for even minor breaches and there should be consideration of the weight of cumulative complaints and regard to patterns of behaviour.

    Of course there is a risk of vexatious complaints but the system has so divorced itself from “public interest” that the community no longer has faith in local politics or local politicians. The system must be made more responsive to the community.

    Another sore point is the out of control use of “commercial in confidence” as a means of withholding information from the community. Redlands City Council have become masters of this tactic (over and above the provisions of the Local Government Act). This vehicle should, itself have limitations and be grounds for a complaint.

    There is need for a template style complaint so more people can involve them selves in the process. The heavily legalistic approach outlined in Government guidelines services to dissuade people making a complaint…that alone encourages the poor practices and poor behaviour that might generate complaints.

  3. The recent announcement by the RSC regarding restraining dogs through daylight hours for larger properties is totally ridiculous! Yes, dogs and koala’s don’t mix – but I’m here to tell you that the greatest enemy of the now almost vanished Koala – is the Redlands Shire Council!!

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