Laws to prevent vexatious complaints against Queensland councillors will be strengthened under reforms introduced into state parliament last week.
The legislative reforms represent a major overhaul of the councillor complaints system and follow a parliamentary inquiry that earlier this year tabled a report containing 40 recommendations for change.
Local government minister Steven Miles said the bill addresses concerns raised in the report.
“This bill seeks to recalibrate the councillor conduct framework to make it more effective and more efficient and to ensure that only matters of substance and in the public interest proceed to the CCT (Councillor Conduct Tribunal) for determination,” he told parliament.
Cracking down on vexatious and serial complainants
The proposed laws establish a process to declare a complainant vexatious, and require the state’s councillor regulator, the Office of the Independent Assessor, to throw out their complaints.
Serial complainants, those who have had more than three complaints dismissed as trivial or vexatious, can be banned from making further complaints for four years.
The legislation also introduces a time limit in which complaints must be made, as well as a preliminary assessment process to “widen the scope for insubstantial conduct matters to be closed out as early as possible,” Mr Miles said.
The legislation prevents complaints from being made against former councillors and complaints must be dismissed if a councillor’s office becomes vacant, unless there’s a suspicion of corruption.
It also removes the requirement to record matters that have been dismissed, or where no action was taken by the IA, on public registers.
The bill redefines ‘inappropriate conduct’ as a ‘conduct breach’, which means it will be up to councils to resolve them.
The bill also amends the definition of misconduct, and includes in it an unlawful direction made by a mayor to the CEO, as well as conflict of interest-related breaches.
The bill also establishes a mandatory training scheme for councillors to be delivered by the department of local government.
Backing from LGAQ
Queensland’s peak body for local government has welcomed the proposed reforms, saying the current complaints system has been dysfunctional for too long.
“The current system has been more focused on generating complaints, rather than regulating conduct,” LGAQ president Alison Smith said.
“A robust, independent and efficient councillor conduct regime is critical to the functioning of the local government sector.
“Mayors and councillors should be able to speak out on issues of importance to their local communities without the fear of being reprimanded, penalised or having their reputations irreparably damaged.”
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