Weekly Speak CEO Column
From confusion to clarity
One of the issues that councils need to keep a weather eye on is governance. It is the key to ensuring local governments act in a way that meets the expectations of their communities, even more so given the events of the previous 12 months involving Ipswich and other councils.
It is also why the LGAQ is continuing to press the Palaszczuk Government and its agencies to properly inform the sector about exactly what it requires from councils regarding integrity reforms. The ongoing confusion that arose at various times last year cannot continue into 2019, a point President Mark Jamieson and myself emphasised to Premier Anastacia Palaszczuk at what has turned out to be an enormously productive meeting three months ago.
Clear answers are now emerging to the questions LGAQ members were asking of the Government last year, like what constitutes a gift under the new disclosure reforms, what types of behaviour are to be categorised as misconduct, and so on.
In my weekly update immediately after that meeting with the Premier on 1 November, I wrote that we informed her of “the fear and concern amongst elected members in relation to often widely differing interpretations and formal advice within different arms of her Government on conflicts of interest and gift provisions arising out of the first tranche of the Belcarra legislation”.
I also said we gave her many examples where this ambiguity was creating absurd outcomes that simply would not pass the pub test.
We also argued that the confusion was resulting in a slowing of the process of approving major projects in local communities and that this would be reflected in sluggish economic activity in 2019 if not corrected.
That message was well and truly heeded, so expect a more concerted effort by our state counterparts to explain these integrity reforms to councils.
One outstanding matter is the way current conflict of interest provisions are causing problems in councils where the majority of councillors were elected under a group, an issue that has caused considerable heartache in Cairns Regional Council lately but one that could affect several other councils if not resolved soon.
Just why the Government does not see this as a matter in need of urgent repair is perplexing to say the least. It means that Cairns councillors are effectively unable to do what their community elected them to do, with the legislation forcing the council to delegate many major decisions to the CEO.
That said, the Government’s integrity agencies are keen to explain how the legislative changes affect the conduct of local government business.
This will include special segments from Integrity Commissioner Nikola Stepanov and Independent Assessor Kathleen Florian on their expectations to be presented as part of the LGAQ’s Elected Member Update sessions next month. Another good reason to register for EMU this year.
Watch for more activity from these two agencies over the next week or so. In the meantime, have a look at the Office of Independent Assessor website at oia.qld.gov.au.
Something else to look out for is the latest blast of our Proud to be Your Council image campaign, which will be airing across the State in coming weeks.
Local Government Association of Queensland
LG House, 25 Evelyn Street, Newstead Qld 4006
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