Updated: Jan 23
What if your employer afforded you no workplace rights, made you use their email server, mobile phone and laptop equipment, were able to keep your location and emails under surveillance and instituted policies that were designed to control your rights to freedom of expression and speech, but literally left you high and dry if the proverbial hit the fan?
Welcome to being an elected councillor in Local Government Victoria.
The Victorian Government recently completed a review into the “culture of local councils”, this did nothing to address the issues facing elected councillors.
No other group of politicians, be they state or federal politicians, (elected nonetheless) are subjected to such controlling or limiting policies.
The Local Government Act 2020, implemented a range of new requirements and standards that are designed to limit, control, and coerce an unrealistic set of behaviours from councillors.
As elected officials, councillors are subject to public scrutiny, and any poor behaviour would undoubtedly lead to ballot box reckoning. Whilst there is no mechanism for the public to seek redress over poor councillor behaviour, there are a raft of new policies, specifically designed to control councillors at an extraordinary level.
The issue here is that the authors of these policies are not councillors themselves, but instead bureaucrats (council CEOs and officers) who have worked with Local
Government State bureaucrats to “address” the poor conduct of councillors, and the behaviours that they do not like.
It is no secret that Council officers and CEOs do not like robust political debate, and public questioning of themselves by Councillors, nor do they like ANY form of public interaction that might cause them embarrassment or call them to account in any public manner. The codes of conduct, media policies, social media policies and governance rules (written by council officers) , show a culture of control, coercion, limiting and denigration of public office.
Council officers have essentially gamed the system and created a new culture that controls and limits everything a councillor can do, especially publicly.
This causes a massive problem for local government. Elected officials (councillors) are controlled by the administration of the council.
This is fundamentally an appalling situation for any form of “government.”
Make no mistake, we have spoken to countless current and former councillors who have uncovered that some council staff are regularly accessing and reading their emails, monitoring their phone bills, and sadly going so far as to track some councillors’ locations via their mobile devices.
Would state or federal politicians ever accept this? Not a chance.
It’s no wonder there is growing dissatisfaction with the politicisation of the role of councillors.
The only way to start addressing this imbalance for Councillors is to insert provisions in the current legislation, policies, and codes of conduct to prevent this from occurring. All councillors should have their email and communication devices removed from council servers and placed on a new statewide server for councillors. I would have no problem with those emails being monitored by a Councillor integrity body, that would be appropriate.
But a CEO who is employed by the councillors and easily weaponized by a ruling “faction” against others, is simply not someone that any councillor should ever feel under surveillance from.
So bad are the lengths officers and CEOs are going to that a new wave of Councillors is already asking for private email addresses not located on council servers, we think they are onto something.
Residents should have every confidence that their correspondence with their elected councillor is not monitored, accessed, or read by CEOs and officers, hell-bent on “finding” something to weaponize.
It should also ensure that other councillors can never obtain this information from officers loyal to them, enabling yet more political bastardy.
We already know that 30% of councillors across the state feel bullied or targeted in their normal council interactions. Not just by other councillors, but by some collusive staff.
Of course, we don’t in any way suggest that all officers are like this, but we have heard so many stories from so many council examples that we believe it is a systematic problem.
Councillors are also afforded, no status, by Fair Work Australia.
They are not employees, they are not contractors, and essentially, they have no defined role under workplace legislation. This denies them the natural rights any employee has within a workplace. Why this isn’t being addressed by the State government is anyone’s guess, as it’s been a known issue for many years.
Councillors across the state, all 620 of them, deserve much better.
How can we ask them to make the big decisions for us as a community, when they are not afforded reasonable and fair workplace rights?
In a $12 Billion industry, trying to prove its value to the community, there can be no justification for bureaucrats acting like the tail wagging the dog.
They must be put firmly in their place.
Councillors deserve respect, privacy and a workplace status that doesn’t treat them as second-class citizens, after all, they are the elected ones!
We are not anti council officers (admin), nor are we anti councils. Our elected councillors make the decisions that affect ratepayers and residents, we simply are advocating for a safe and more neutral political workplace for councillors.