Geoff Helisma |
Councillors who ‘sail’ close to the code of conduct ‘wire’ will soon be monitored by a “tough new behaviour code for councillors”, says Local Government Minister Gabrielle Upton.
The new codes of conduct will “crack down on [councillors receiving] gifts and benefits and require formal training for councillors and mayors” – a $50 limit has been set on gifts to councillors.
“The reforms are needed to ensure the conduct of local councillors meets the expectations of the community,” the Ms Upton said in a media release.
Councillors will be compelled to “disclose whether they are a property developer or a close associate of one” and there will be “restrictions on access to council information [and] strict requirements for declaring interests”.
“The new Model Code of Conduct stamps out the bad behaviour we have seen among a small number of councillors who have acted in self-interest rather than in the best interests of the community,” Ms Upton said.
“Any councillor who abuses public office for personal or financial gain is firmly in the sights of the new Model Code of Conduct.”
Minister Upton cited examples of how the new code would impact upon behaviour, two of which addressed bullying and inappropriate interaction between a councillor and a member of the public.
A public inquiry into the former Murray shire council heard allegations of bullying and harassment of the general manager by some councillors – the new Model Code of Conduct clarifies councillors’ obligations under work, health and safety laws.
The code defines bullying behaviour, in part, as a person or a group of people who repeatedly behave/s unreasonably towards another person or a group of persons.
Bullying behaviour, the code states “may involve … aggressive, threatening or intimidating conduct; belittling or humiliating comments; spreading malicious rumours; and, teasing, practical jokes or ‘initiation ceremonies’”.
In the case of a former Lithgow councillor, “who swore at and abused the mayor, refused to apologise and had inappropriate interaction with a member of the public following a council meeting”, the councillor was “disqualified for five years under the three strikes and you’re out law”.
The councillor had previously been suspended on six occasions.
Other new requirements include:
• Mandatory reporting of all gifts regardless of value in the council gift register;
• Councillors are prohibited from accessing information about matters they have pecuniary interests in unless it is otherwise publicly available;
• Suspensions for pecuniary interest breaches will count towards the ‘three strikes and you’re out’ and councillors will face automatic disqualification when they are suspended three times for misconduct;
• Councillors must declare new interests more regularly in official returns of interest lodged with their council; and,
• New standards will be implemented, relating to discrimination and harassment, bullying, work health and safety, use of social media, access to information and maintenance of council records.
Councils have six months to adopt the new codes.