Reform and common sense
The federal election result has shown the dangers of having blind faith in what passes for perceived wisdom. That is something the pundits and commentators should remember when they come across those who politically benefit from broadcasting the perception that there is widespread wrongdoing in local government. New research released this week shows that, for all the talk of local councils being “on the nose” and the continued political assaults on local government from vested interests, the public is more satisfied with the sector than it was last year.
Colmar Brunton found that 60 percent of Queenslanders are satisfied with their local council, compared with 55 percent in 2018. The reason? Council is “doing a good job”, according to many of those surveyed. This is what really matters to local communities about their councils. And it is what most councils are achieving, day after day.
I was able to explain this at a public hearing this week of the Parliamentary Economics and Governance Committee which is investigating the Palaszczuk Government’s proposals to introduce major change to the way councils conduct business and the method by which local governments are elected. I reiterated that the LGAQ supports reform if it leads to greater accountability and transparency but will always oppose changes that are made to further self-interest. The more the Government insists its push to introduce compulsory preferential voting to local government elections is all about transparency, the more it sounds as if it is acting in its own interests rather than those of the community.
Moreover, the LGAQ and the mayors who appeared before the committee were not the only ones who had problems with the Government’s attitude toward local councils. The Queensland Law Society, in a scathing submission to the committee, worried that parts of the legislation “are inconsistent with fundamental legislative principles and the rule of law.”
“Further, when operational, some of the new obligations may not be practical and indeed expose local councillors to a real risk of prosecution for unintentional administrative oversights that do not amount to systemic corrupt activity,” the QLS said.
These types of power plays make the job of those in local government for the right reasons all the more difficult. The LGAQ and its member councils have no problem with reform post the Crime and Corruption Commission’s Belcarra report. As I told the committee, there are good reforms in the legislation but there has to be a balance. We cannot have a situation where there are people who do not want to be in local government and do not feel like they can walk down the street with heads held high because of where this is going.
For all that, it appears the Office of Independent Assessor is growing more wary that some may be using its existence for purely political purposes. In a statement this week on the dismissal of a councillor conduct complaint, Independent Assessor Kathleen Florian revealed that the Councillor Conduct Tribunal had “recommended the CCC consider what action can be taken to prevent complainants publicising their complaints before they can be properly investigated and dealt with”.
Now there is one agency that values a common sense approach to reform.
Local Government Association of Queensland
LG House, 25 Evelyn Street, Newstead Qld 4006
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