In all the hundreds of pages of clauses in the new Local Government Bill 2019 relating to Councillor Codes of Conduct, Council Integrity, Councillor Conduct Panels, Commissions of Inquiry, Ministerial Oversight and so on and so on ….not one of them includes the words residents or ratepayers or even municipal community.
The Councillor Code of Conduct is all about how Councillors behave towards each other and to Council staff. There’s no mention of how they behave towards residents. And no clue as to how residents might complain, or who to complain to, or what they might be able to complain about.
The Council Integrity clauses discuss what Councillors can and can’t do and what gifts should be disclosed. This section also describes Conflicts of Interest but no mention of what residents or ratepayers might do if they think a Councillor has a conflict of interest.
Councils have to have a Code of Conduct but as far as this Bill is concerned, a blank piece of paper with a title meets the requirements.
And the Legislation gets worse for residents. As the compulsory codes and the plans and committees pile on the cost for ratepayers, the Minister has carte blanche to review the conduct of Council. (Not that he pays for any of their waste, self-interest, fraud or corruption.)
Local Government Minister Adem Somyurek promised in July 2019, that the new legislation would have a clause allowing for residents to vote for a commission of inquiry into Councils.
There is still a Commission of Inquiry - but residents have nothing to do with it. The Minister decides on our behalf.
And the Legislation provides absolutely no guidelines for residents or ratepayers about how to approach the Minister, who can approach the Minister, what activities might prompt a Commission of Inquiry etc etc.
But there’s dozens of clauses about how such an Inquiry will be run and who can run them and what might happen and especially strict clauses that costs can be awarded and those costs carry the same legal weight as though they were ordered by a Supreme Court.
It’s very prescriptive about appointing public servants to plush jobs to investigate and making sure someone foots the bill but not one word about how residents or ratepayers might prompt the Minister to take action.
And everything investigated can be hushed up if the Minister thinks someone might be a bit embarrassed.
Here's the relevant clauses:
212 Restriction on publication of information relating to inquiries
(1) Subject to subsection (2), a Commission of Inquiry may make an order prohibiting or
restricting the publication of—
(a) any information that may enable the identity of a person who has given, or is to give,
information to the Commission of Inquiry for the purposes of an inquiry to be
(b) any information given to the Commission of Inquiry for the purposes of an inquiry.
(2) A Commission of Inquiry may make an order prohibiting or restricting the publication of
information or evidence if—
(a) prejudice or hardship might be caused to any person, including harm to their safety or
(b) the nature and subject matter of the information or evidence is sensitive; or
(c) there is a possibility of any prejudice to legal proceedings; or
(d) the Commission of Inquiry otherwise considers the prohibition or restriction appropriate.
Especially note clause (d) - that’s the clause that says “any reason we want.”
And then, to make doubly sure that information on crook Councils is kept hidden , Commission proceedings are exempt from Freedom of Information Legislation.
This Bill is degrading to residents, especially ratepayers who have to pay for Council staff to comply with all its ridiculous, useless clauses and then have no avenues for complaint.
I guess I’ll have to complain directly to the Minister for Local Government.
And keep publishing his responses.