The Local Government Amendment (Improved
Governance) Act 2015 reforms to the Local
Government Act 1989 largely came into force in March 2016. They established a new councillor conduct
framework setting out a clear hierarchy for the management of councillor
- councils have responsibility for dealing with breaches of the councillor code of conduct by councillors;
- complaints of misconduct or serious misconduct by a councillor are heard and determined by councillor conduct panels; and
- allegations of gross misconduct are dealt with by VCAT.
hierarchy is designed to:
- reinforce the responsibility and authority of councils to manage breaches of councillor codes of conduct through a mandatory internal resolution procedure;
- only escalate management of misconduct and serious misconduct to councillor conduct panels when councils cannot resolve the matter internally;
- give councillor conduct panels greater powers to manage and resolve misconduct and serious misconduct by councillors; and
- retain the capacity for the Chief Municipal Inspector to manage gross misconduct through VCAT.
Council role in enforcing
Prior to the improved governance reforms, councils had little capacity to
manage and resolve issues arising from conduct in breach of accepted standards
of behaviour by individual councillors.
Councils now have a clear role in doing so.
A council's councillor code of conduct and internal resolution procedure
must make it clear how alleged breaches of the code of conduct are to be
handled. The procedure must provide an independent arbiter to consider
alleged breaches of the code and make determinations on them, fairly and
These measures provide councils significantly greater authority to shape and
enforce acceptable standards of conduct by their councillors.
The Act also requires each council to appoint a principal conduct officer to
assist the council in the implementation and conduct of the council's internal
Councils may impose sanctions through their internal resolution procedure
for breaches of the councillor code of conduct. These may include:
- requiring an apology;
- suspending a councillor for
up to two council meetings;
- directing a councillor not
to attend or chair an advisory or special committee for up to two months;
- directing that a councillor
be removed from a position where they represent council for up to two
Failure by a councillor to comply with a council's internal resolution
procedure or with a written direction given by the council at the conclusion of
the internal resolution process constitutes misconduct. The matter can
then be referred to a councillor conduct panel. This gives the council
authority to enforce its code.
Councillor conduct panels
the new framework, complaints of misconduct and serious misconduct by
councillors are heard and determined by councillor conduct panels. The kinds of behaviour that constitute misconduct
and serious misconduct are set out in the definitions provided in
section 3 of the Act.
includes failure by a councillor to comply with the internal resolution
procedures in the councillor code of conduct.
This is designed to reinforce the primacy of council processes dealing
with councillor behaviour.
also includes repeated contraventions of the councillor conduct principles in
the Act. If the conduct principles are
also included in the council's councillor conduct code, the internal resolution
process provided in the code must be followed.
misconduct includes the failure to attend a councillor conduct panel hearing,
to provide information to a panel, or to comply with any direction of a
panel. It also includes continued or
repeated misconduct after a finding against a councillor by a panel. These provisions reinforce the authority of
the panel process and panel determinations.
another councillor or a member of council staff is also serious
misconduct. Bullying is defined as
repeated unreasonable behaviour by a councillor towards another councillor or
member of council staff that creates a risk to the health and safety of the
councillor or member of staff. The
remaining grounds of serious misconduct are attempting to direct council staff,
or releasing confidential council information.
councillor conduct panel makes a finding of misconduct against a councillor,
the panel may:
- reprimand the councillor;
- direct the councillor to make an apology;
- direct the councillor to take leave of absence for a period of up to 2 months;
- direct that the councillor is ineligible to hold the office of mayor for a period not exceeding the remainder of the council's term.
councillor conduct panel makes a finding of serious misconduct against a
councillor, the councillor becomes ineligible to hold the office of mayor
(unless the panel directs otherwise), and the panel may:
- reprimand the
- direct the councillor to
make an apology;
- direct the councillor to
take leave of absence for a period of up to 2 months;
- suspend the councillor
from office for a period of up to 6 months;
- direct that the councillor is ineligible to chair a special committee of the council for a period up to and including the remainder of the council's term.
of whether or not a finding of misconduct or serious misconduct has been made,
a councillor conduct panel may also make a finding that remedial action is
required and direct the councillor to attend mediation, training or
conduct panel process
council, a councillor, or a group of councillors consider that another
councillor's actions or activities amount to misconduct or serious misconduct,
they can apply to the principal councillor conduct registrar for a councillor
conduct panel to be formed to make a finding in relation to these actions or
Councillor Conduct Registrar
principal councillor conduct registrar is a new position within the Department
of Environment, Land, Water and Planning (DELWP) established to administer
councillor conduct panel processes under the new councillor conduct framework.
registrar is responsible for determining if a councillor conduct panel should
be formed. In deciding whether to form a
panel the registrar must be satisfied that the following requirements (set out
in section 81C of the Act) are met:
- the application is not frivolous, vexatious, misconceived or lacking in substance;
- there is sufficient evidence to support an allegation of misconduct or serious misconduct; and
- the council has taken sufficient or appropriate steps to resolve the matter or has provided satisfactory reasons for not taking these steps (in accordance with the internal resolution procedure specified in the council's councillor code of conduct).
the section 81C requirements are met the registrar must form a councillor
conduct panel, made up by two members selected from the Councillor Conduct
Panel List, to hear the application. The
panel must include one legal member (who is the chairperson of the panel) and
one general member.
Conduct Panel List
Councillor Conduct Panel List is established under section 81U of the Act by
the Minister for Local Government. The
panel list comprises the following legal and general members:
The Hon. Shane Marshall (legal)
Mrs Jo-Anne Mazzeo (legal)
Helen Buckingham (general)
Mr Matthew Evans (general)
Conduct Panel sitting fees
costs associated with councillor conduct panel hearings are met by the council
for which the hearing is conducted.
Registrar has set the fees for legal panel list members at $1072 per day, and
for general members at $969 per day.
Conduct Panel determinations
conducting a hearing, a councillor conduct panel must make a
determination. A determination can
include a finding of misconduct or serious misconduct against the councillor, a
finding that remedial action is required by the councillor, or can dismiss the
application. The panel must also give
written reasons for its decision within 28 days of making the determination.
panel must give a copy of the determination and reasons for its decision to:
- the council
- the parties to the matter
- the Minister for local Government, and
- the principal councillor conduct registrar.
Registrar must publish the determination and the reasons for its decision.
no panels have been established. As a
consequence no decisions have been made or published.
framework also requires each council to appoint a principal conduct officer who
is responsible for assisting the council to implement and conduct its internal
resolution procedure and to support the Registrar in relation to councillor
conduct panel hearings.
the Councillor Conduct Registrar
Registrar may be contacted by email at email@example.com
Chief Municipal Inspector is responsible for investigating and making
applications to VCAT for findings of gross misconduct against councillors.
Chief Municipal Inspector also has power to investigate and initiate
applications for councillor conduct panels to be established by the Registrar
to determine allegations of serious misconduct by councillors.
addition, the Chief Municipal Inspector continues to have responsibility for
investigating and prosecuting key offences under the Act including failure by a
councillor to declare a conflict of interest, disclosure of confidential
information and misuse of position
information about the Chief Municipal Inspector and the Local Government
Investigations and Compliance Inspectorate is available at www.dpc.vic.gov.au/index.php/local-government/local-government-investigations-and-compliance-inspectorate