By Nathan Ruhle / LGAQ Lead, Intergovernmental Relations
Scrutiny from State Government integrity agencies has never been greater than in recent years. The landscape of new laws, new agencies and a cohort of first-term councillors and mayors still finding their way in local government has made for a challenging environment.
As your Association, it’s important we continue to ensure the system of local government is accountable, democratic, efficient, sustainable and transparent. Local governments have a responsibility to comply with appropriate standards relating to applicable governance arrangements.
But the last thing we want to see is over-reach that goes well beyond the pale of common sense. Local government leaders should be empowered to represent their communities and do their job, not be discouraged from putting their hands up again.
Could you imagine state or federal politicians operating under the same environment?
It would never happen. That’s why it was important to the LGAQ to secure a Parliamentary Inquiry into the operations and functioning of the Office of the Independent Assessor (OIA).
So, what are the key recommendations?
We are extremely thankful that the Parliamentary Committee recommended an overhaul of the system, because that is what’s necessary to ensure there is a major refocus. The threshold of what the OIA dismisses in the public interest and pursues, whether that be back to the council for inappropriate conduct or a misconduct claim they investigate themselves, needs to be raised.
Throwing more resources at a broken system would not only be a waste of taxpayers’ money, but a failure to heed the message from the Parliamentary Inquiry.
Key recommendations the LGAQ is focused on State Government implementation will provide:
- Faster resolution of matters
- Dealing with frivolous or vexatious complainants
- Reducing the cost to councils and individuals
- Common sense Conflict of Interest laws
- Managing social media trolls
- Ensuring freedom of political expression
- More oversight and transparency for the OIA and the system.
The State Government has now responded to the report, supporting all 40 recommendations. You can read the Government's response here. The LGAQ has already begun conversations with the State Government on its response and implementing the reforms that are needed. And it doesn’t all necessitate changes to legislation.
As LGAQ President Mayor Mark Jamieson said on the day the report was released:
“The onus should now be on the Independent Assessor to ensure the Committee’s recommended changes are implemented from the top down, or the Government should consider whether it is now time to change direction and appoint someone else to lead the body going forward.”
The LGAQ will be working with the government to ensure the implementation of recommendations that are needed to return common sense to the system. This will include finalising the work that many of you contributed to in 2021, with necessary changes that clarify the existing Conflict of Interest laws.
If you have an interest in these issues, I encourage you to read the Parliamentary report. It is publicly available here, but please reach out if you need assistance obtaining a copy.
Thank you to those individuals who contributed to the LGAQ’s submission or told their story directly to the Parliamentary Committee. You helped secure an important report that should be the catalyst for system changes that benefit everyone in local government.