The need for councils to have certainty has never been more important than right now as we navigate one of the most challenging periods in a generation.
Mayors and councillors are rightly focussed on helping their communities during the COVID-19 pandemic and ensuring they recover from the economic crisis it has caused.
But they are currently operating under a cloud of uncertainty as we await extensive legislative changes to the way councils will operate going forward including new conflict of interest offences for both councillors and State MPs.
The new offences include a jail term of up to two years for councillors caught breaching conflict of interest and register of interest requirements with dishonest intent.
The laws to enable those changes were supposed to be passed in early March and be in force by the time the class of 2020 were elected and had their feet under the desk.
The Bill was put on hold to allow the Government to focus on addressing the COVID-19 pandemic.
This was an understandable move.
Disappointingly the Bill has now been delayed again with Attorney-General Yvette D’Ath telling the House in a letter tabled out of session this week that matters relevant to the Bill are still under consideration.
This is just not acceptable.
Those changes are now unlikely to be debated and passed until at least August, five months after the council elections.
That means councillors will be operating under a redundant scheme for at least another three months, likely more.
The State needs to move to end this uncertainty. And now is as good a time as any, especially considering the announcement from the Office of the Independent Assessor of a three-month amnesty – from May 5 to August 5 - for first time councillors and mayors.
While complaints can still be made, the OIA’s amnesty will mean no further investigative action will be taken against councillors unless the allegation amounts to serious corruption. Instead, councillors will be given feedback on where they went wrong.
We applaud the OIA on the initiative. This is a sensible, decent thing to do and will allow newly elected members time to learn the ropes.
Passing the new laws to coincide with this amnesty would ensure councillors can also have time to absorb the extensive changes the new laws – and associated regulation – will also bring. It would also give councillors time to be properly trained.
It is also important that State Government gives councils certainty and commits to passing those new laws as drafted and does not move to alter them to criminalise innocent mistakes by removing the necessary element of intent in the new offences.
To remove the need for intent goes against well-established legal principles and could expose local councillors to the risk of prosecution and jail for innocent mistakes, errors of judgement or basic administrative oversight.
It would also be contrary to the recommendations of the parliamentary review of the laws as well as the concerns of councils, former attorneys-general, the Queensland Law Society, civil libertarians and both the Clerk of Parliament and the Ethics Committee.
We urge Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk to ensure the laws are passed as soon as practicable and, importantly, as drafted to ensure certainty for local government going forward.
Make sure you have your say
Speaking of the State Government, today is the last day to respond to the LGAQ’s survey of your experience with the ECQ’s conduct of the local government elections.
The survey will help inform the LGAQ’s submission to the parliamentary inquiry into the elections.
I encourage you to fill in the survey to ensure all issues can be covered.
The LGAQ sought and received an extension from the committee to ensure all views could be collected and conveyed.
Inspiring the town planners of the future
This week the LGAQ launched a new competition to help raise the importance of the role of councils in planning communities with school students.
The “Better Communities” competition encourages students to design their perfect community with a prize for the best community designed by a primary school student and a high school student.
The competition is an extension of the Better Communities simulation game the LGAQ developed with award-winning Queensland game development studio Bail! Enemy Jet and local comms experts Articulous.
It is educational and community-minded, and we hope students across the state will take up the challenge.
Don’t forget our digital Civic Leaders forum
Lastly folks, the LGAQ’s first ever digital Civic Leaders summit will be held next month, from June 15 to 17.
This exclusive event for Mayors, Deputy Mayors and CEOs will begin with a 30-minute how-to session on June 15 to guide you through the technology we will be using.
The summit will then kick off from 9am until 12pm on June 16 and June 17.