New body to investigate council complaints
AN INDEPENDENT assessor will soon handle all complaints against Queensland councillors.
It follows the introduction last week of electoral donation laws that require candidates for local government to declare electoral donations within seven days.
Minister for Local Government Mark Furner - who tabled the report and government response at a Budget Estimates Hearing last night - said the proposed changes were aimed at ensuring public confidence in the councillor complaints system.
"The Palaszczuk Government proposes to give the independent assessor significant powers to assess and prosecute complaints," Mr Furner said.
"Importantly under the model identified, the Independent Assessor will also be able to dismiss or prosecute frivolous, vexatious or out-of-time complaints.
"It would also be an offence for an accused councillor to attempt or take a reprisal against an employee or another councillor who makes a complaint of misconduct."
Southern Downs Mayor Tracy Dobie said the legislation was a step in the right direction.
"This is certainly what our council pushed for when we were asked for our feedback," Cr Dobie said.
"The laws will takes the onus from the council CEO to do first level of assessment which I think is a positive.
"Another key change is the tribunal will have the power to take action against people who make vexacious claims against councillors and there are people in the community who think they can say whatever they want about elected officials.
"I think it will bring a big change."
Southern Downs Residents Action Group secretary Andrew Gale agreed the proposed new laws were a good move.
"There's a definite feeling in the community that the complaints handling process could be more transparent and more independent," Mr Gale said.
"It needs to be seen to be handled independently and sometimes the perception can be that when these things are handled locally there's a potential for mates to be investigating mates.
"Regardless of the integrity of those people or the process, I think it's a good idea to have it shifted away from being done locally - it's a step in the right direction."
Mr Furner said a new mandatory code of conduct that sets out acceptable behaviour standards for elected councillors was also proposed.
"I want councillors who bring down the standard of those hard working elected representatives around the state, to be held accountable for their actions," Mr Furner said.
"The proposed changes are part of a suite of measures that are addressing integrity and accountability issues in local government in Queensland.
"As elected representatives, councillors and mayors should be held to the highest possible standards of ethical and legal behaviour."
The new measure is one of 50 recommendations to be adopted, supported in-part or supported in principle from the Councillor Complaints Review, conducted by an independent three-person panel earlier this year.
Under the new laws, the independent assessor would receive all complaints, then categorise, investigate and, if necessary, prosecute complaints.
A Tribunal would deal with misconduct matters and corrupt conduct would still be referred to the Crime and Corruption Commission.
Allegations of inappropriate conduct would be dealt with at a local level.
"The current system is overly confusing and difficult to navigate," Mr Furner said.
"Having the independent assessor make the preliminary assessment in all circumstances - other than corrupt conduct matters which must be referred to the CCC - will simplify the process and reduce duplication and red tape."
The Government will consult widely with councils and peak bodies such as the Local Government Association of Queensland on the proposed new laws.
The Ipswich mayoral by-election and Boulia councillor by-election on August 19 will be the first local government elections to adhere to new electoral donations laws.
The Councillor Complaints review panel consisted of former Integrity Commissioner, Dr David Solomon; former CEO of Logan City Council, Gary Kellar; and former Noosa Shire Council mayor, Noel Playford.