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A guide for council members, complaints officers and members of the community.
The minor breach system is part of the disciplinary framework for council members in Western Australia under the Local Government Act 1995 (the Act). The minor breach provisions were added to the Act in 2007 to address conduct by individual council members, with the aim of responding to disruptive or inappropriate conduct. The system responds to and deters conduct by council members that disrupts the effective functioning of their local government.
A council member commits a minor breach if he or she contravenes the rules of conduct set out in the Local Government (Model Code of Conduct) Regulations 2021 or regulation 34D of the Local Government (Administration) Regulations 1996 (the Regulations; Act section 5.105(1)). The Regulations contain a set of rules for the conduct of council members. Only conduct that is prohibited under the Regulations can be found to be a minor breach. Under the Regulations, breaches of some parts of a Local Government’s Standing Orders Local Law are considered a minor breach.
There are four main elements to the minor breach system:
The Local Government Standards Panel can only make a finding where conduct has occurred and a complaint has been lodged.
The minor breach system only deals with certain types of conduct by council members. There are some types of conduct that cannot be dealt with:
The minor breach system exists to respond to individual council member conduct that is disruptive to the functioning of a local government. All complaints should be made with this objective in mind. As a result, complaints such as the following are inappropriate:
The panel can also choose not to impose a sanction for a breach. An example of when this might occur, is when the Panel is satisfied with the measures a council member has taken to rectify the issues raised against them in the complaint.
It is important to understand that the panel is an adjudicative body only. It does not have any powers to investigate complaints.
The panel can only make decisions based on the evidence presented to it in complaints and in responses from council members who are the subject of complaints. The panel’s decisions are based on its evaluation of whether it is more likely that the
alleged breach occurred than that it did not occur (Act s.5.106), based on the evidence available.
This means that individuals need to include only relevant and verifiable information and evidence in Complaint of Minor Breach Forms, responses and submissions to the panel. The panel may refuse to deal with complaints, or make a finding
of no breach, where there is not adequate evidence to support claims made.
Evidence may include copies of meeting agendas and minutes, audio/video recordings or transcripts from meetings (Note: the relevant parts of the document/recording relating to the breach must be highlighted or otherwise brought to the attention of the Panel), correspondence such as letters or emails, relevant extracts from council records such as gift registers, and other information. Personal
opinions, suspicions about motives and other non-factual information cannot be considered by the panel and should not be submitted.
Each regulation contains certain elements that must be demonstrated in order for a breach to be found. These are explained in more detail in the sections below.
In making its decisions, the panel gives regard to the general interests of local government in Western Australia (Act Schedule 5.1 cl.8). However despite this, it only has the authority to find that a breach did or did not occur. A finding of no breach
does not necessarily imply that the council member’s conduct was above reproach, but it is a conclusion that the conduct probably did not contravene the regulation as alleged.
The panel can refuse to deal with a minor breach complaint if the panel considers the complaint is
Complainants are able to withdraw their complaints at any time prior to the panel either making a finding or referring the matter to another body (Act s.5.110A). Withdrawal requests must be made in writing to the Presiding Member of the panel. The panel
will provide a written acknowledgement on receipt of a complaint withdrawal request.
Please note however that the panel may still choose to deal with a complaint following a withdrawal request, if the presiding member considers that it is appropriate to do so (Act s.5.110A). In these cases the complainant, Complaints Officer and council
member are all informed in writing of the decision to proceed with the complaint.
It is an offence under the Act for a person to provide information to the panel or in a Complaint of Minor Breach Form that they know to be false or misleading (s.5.124). The maximum penalty is $5000.
This may include information that is provided:
It is an offence under the Act for a person to disclose that a complaint has been made and/or any details of a complaint, unless the panel has delivered a sanction decision in respect of the complaint.
No fee is charged to lodge a complaint in the minor breach system. However, the panel charges the local government a fee to cover some of the costs of dealing with a complaint. This fee is charged for each complaint, whether or not a breach is found by
The panel may also order the person against whom the complaint was made to pay to the local government specified in the order an amount equal to the amount of remuneration and allowances payable by the local government to cover the costs of dealing with a minor breach complaint.
The fee is based on the time spent on the complaint and is usually around $1000 per complaint, although it can be higher for complex complaints.
Local governments meet the administrative costs of receiving and processing complaints and implementing orders made by the panel where a breach is found (for example, training fees or publishing newspaper notices). The State Government bears some administrative
costs of the panel.
The numbers of complaints received from individual local governments, and the fees charged to each, are published in the panel’s annual report.
The standards panel does not have the power to review its own decisions, however the Act provides for review of panel decisions in limited cases.
Section 5.125 of the Act allows for an application to be made to the State Administrative Tribunal for a review of a panel decision (that is, a decision to not impose a sanction, or an order for public censure, public apology, training or a monetary payment to the local government). Thus, if no breach was found, it is not possible to apply to the State Administrative Tribunal for review.
Because opportunities for review are limited, it is important that the relevant information and evidence is provided to the panel by the complainant and the council member (respondent), so that the panel can make an appropriate finding. Complainants
are not able to submit a new complaint about the same conduct where a finding has already been made.
If the State Administrative Tribunal accepts an application for review, it independently considers all the evidence available. It reviews both the panel’s finding and its sanction decision. The Tribunal may either affirm or set aside the Standards
Panel’s finding of breach. If the Tribunal affirms the finding of breach, it may then affirm, vary or overturn the Standards Panel’s sanction decision.
Once the panel has made a finding of minor breach, it considers whether or not to impose a sanction.
Sanctions which the panel may order are:
The panel invites council members who have been found to have committed a minor breach to make a submission about the appropriate sanction for their case. The complainant does not have an opportunity to make a submission about sanctions.
The panel may consider the following factors when determining a sanction order:
This section describes the factors considered by the panel in making a finding of breach or no breach for each of the Regulations.
Please note that this information is provided for informational purposes only. Legal advice should be sought about how the regulations apply to specific circumstances.
The conditions required for Regulation 34D to be breached include:
The panel can only find that a minor breach has occurred where the above conditions have all been established.
In most cases, the following circumstances are not considered to constitute a minor breach:
There may be cases where conduct has occurred at a meeting and was responded to at the time in accordance with the relevant local law (such as through a point of order, direction of the presiding officer, apology or withdrawal of comments). In such cases,
potential complainants should consider whether there is a public benefit to the conduct also being raised and considered by the panel.
At a council meeting a council member made a statement that “Councillor [Name] is corrupt…”. The local government’s Standing Orders Local Law applied to the meeting and contained the provision that “no member of the
Council or a committee is to use offensive or objectionable expressions in reference to any member, employee of the Council, or any other person”.
The panel received two complaints alleging the council member had breached the Standing Orders Local Law and therefore committed a breach of Regulation 34D.
The panel found that the council member had committed a breach of Regulation 34D by making the statement about his fellow council member.
In considering its finding, the panel was satisfied that the Standing Orders Local Law was a ‘law relating to conduct of people at council or committee meetings’, for the purpose of the Regulation and that the statement that another council
member was corrupt was an ‘offensive or objectionable’ statement made in reference to a member of the council. In its deliberations, the panel also noted a distinction in the parts of a standing orders local law, between the provisions
that apply to the conduct of persons (covered by the Regulation) and the provisions that apply to the procedure of meetings (not covered by the Regulation).
The panel resolved to order the publication of a censure notice and a public apology by the council member. However, the individual ceased to be a council member shortly after the panel’s decision and so the order did not proceed.
The conditions required for Regulation 21 to be breached include:
Information marked as confidential by anyone other than the Chief Executive Officer of the relevant local government does not fall into the scope of this Regulation. Similarly, only meetings closed under section 5.23 of the Act are considered to be confidential,
regardless of how confidential they were intended to be.
Part of a council meeting was closed to members of the public under section 5.23(2) of the Act to consider a commercial proposal. After the meeting, a council member disclosed to a journalist the primary reason voiced by council members who voted
against the proposal.
The panel received a complaint alleging that the disclosure breached Regulation 21.
The council member denied the alleged breach and claimed the political reasons asserted by council members when voting for or against a proposal are not confidential, as their vote on a matter is recorded in the publicly available meeting minutes.
The panel found that the council member had committed a breach of Regulation 21 by disclosing the views shared by other council members to the journalist. Upon consideration of the matter, the panel was satisfied that the council member became privy
to the information (the other council members’ reasons for their vote) during part of a council meeting closed to members of the public under section 5.23(2) of the Act.
The panel expressed a view that anything said during the closed part of a meeting is not permitted to be disclosed publicly (including to any elector or ratepayer), unless it is public knowledge or the council has resolved to make the information
public knowledge, at the time that it is disclosed.
The sanction imposed on the council member was for the publication of a censure notice.
The conditions required for Regulation 18 to be breached include:
The panel must be satisfied that both of these conditions have been met in order to make a finding of minor breach.
Regulation 18 does not apply to conduct that contravenes section 5.93 of the Act or section 83 of the Criminal Code Act Compilation Act 1913. This means that even if the above conditions are met, it is not considered a minor breach where a council member:
A council resolved to increase rates in its annual budget. In response, a resident organised a public meeting to form an action group. The resident contacted each council member who voted against the rate rise seeking their assistance to promote the
meeting. Three council members agreed to provide aid, and used their personalised council stationery to write a 'Dear resident' letter urging the recipient to attend the meeting and providing copies of it for distribution to the ratepayers.
The panel received a complaint alleging that by providing aid, each of these council members had breached Regulation 18.
The council members denied the alleged breach claiming the local government’s policy on stationery issued to council members did not specify any purpose or restriction for its use; and a council member has freedom of speech and the right to
inform the local government’s ratepayers on matters of public record.
Upon consideration of the matter, the panel was satisfied that by providing the aid, each of the council members had made improper use of their office. This was based on the view that the council members had caused detriment to the local government
by using personalised local government stationery to publish criticisms of council’s rating decisions, breaching their obligations of fidelity to council and loyalty to the local government’s decisions. In the panel’s view, at
least some of the people who read a distributed copy of any of the letters would think less favourably of the council as the governing body.
In response to the claims by the council members in response to the allegation, the panel was also of the view that the standards of conduct a council member is expected to observe may restrict what the council member can write or say, and these restrictions
may be perceived as limiting the implied freedom of political communication under the Commonwealth Constitution.
The sanction imposed on two of the council members was for the publication of a censure notice (the other person ceased to be a council member shortly after the panel’s finding).
A council member’s next-door neighbour made an application to the local government for a rezoning of their property. When the application first came before council, the council member appropriately disclosed a proximity interest and left the
meeting. Council deferred its decision until further planning advice was received. Before the council meeting at which the matter was to be decided, the council member sent an email to the other council members commenting on the officer’s
report and providing his views on possible consequences should council not approve the application.
The panel received a complaint alleging that in sending the email the council member had breached Regulation 18.
The council member denied a breach and asserted that the intent of the email was to provide information and not to unduly influence fellow council members.
The panel was satisfied that the council member’s sending of the email was an improper use of office as a council member and therefore a breach of Regulation 18. This was based on the view that the council member was aware they had a proximity
interest in the application and were precluded from participating in any discussion or decision, and was inappropriately lobbying or attempting to influence fellow council members to gain an advantage for the neighbour, that advantage being approval
of the application.
The sanction imposed on the council member by the panel was for the publication of a censure notice.
The conditions required for Regulation 17 to be breached include:
A football oval and surrounding land was on Crown land and the subject of a management order in favour of a local government. On the day of a football match, without being authorised under the Local Government Act or authorised by the local government’s
council or its CEO, a council member caused four banners to be temporarily fixed to the boundary fence of the oval, two each adjacent to two entry gates.
The panel received a complaint alleging the council member had committed a breach of Regulation 17 by using the fence to display the banners.
The council member denied the alleged breach. While he did not dispute his conduct, or that he did not have the requisite authorisation for it, he claimed that the fence was not an asset of the local government, and thus was not part of the local
The panel found that the council member had committed a breach of Regulation 17 by using the fence to display the banners without the requisite authorisation. The panel was satisfied that the fence was under the local government’s care, control
or management, and was ‘local government property’ (as defined in section 1.4 of the Act) and therefore a resource of the local government.
The panel also stated its view that the unauthorised using up or consumption or the perceptible wear of a physical thing that is a local government resource, is more serious than the unauthorised ‘making use of’ that thing where there
is no using up or consumption or the perceptible wear of it.
In the circumstances, the panel was satisfied that it was not appropriate to impose any sanction on the council member for his breach of Regulation 17.
The conditions required for Regulation 19 to be breached include:
At a council meeting, a council member proposed his own motion that council direct works to correct a long-standing issue about the footpath crossover and car park entrance of a shopping centre. Council resolved to pass the motion.
Months later, council was advised by its administration of the extent of some aspects of the works, and the need for a capital budget allocation from council for the works in the next budget review. Shortly thereafter, without being authorised by
the council or the local government’s CEO, the council member in question sought a quote from a private sector contractor for costs of carrying out the works, sent the owner of the shopping centre copies of the quote and relevant drawings,
and had discussions with a representative of the owner about the carrying out of the works.
The panel received a complaint alleging this unauthorised conduct by the council member was a breach of Regulation 19.
The council member denied the alleged breach. He did not dispute committing the relevant conduct, however claimed it amounted to information gathering and lobbying activities on behalf of the community, not undertaking administration tasks.
On consideration of the complaint, the panel was satisfied that the council member had committed a breach of Regulation 19. The panel considered the roles and responsibilities of both council members and the administration of a local government under
the Act, and came to the view that the council member’s conduct was part of the everyday, hands-on running of the local government and was not in line with the view that elected members are there to govern at the higher strategic level.
The sanction imposed by the panel on the council member was for the publication of a censure notice.
The conditions required for Regulation 20 to be breached include:
The council member intended for a local government employee to do or not do a specific act;
The specified act is not something that the council member is entitled or authorised to request or receive from local government employees by the Act, a documented policy, or a direct authorisation;
The council member, either in attempt or successfully, directed the employee or influenced the employee by threatening or promising a reward;
The influence or direction was made in the employee’s capacity as an employee; and
The conduct occurred outside of deliberations at a council or committee meeting.
The context in which an influence or direction was made (or attempted to be made) is considered to be significant in determining whether a minor breach has occurred under Regulation 20. For example, the panel has found that generic threats (for example,
‘you’d better not get in my way’) must be connected to a specific desired act to be considered a minor breach.
A council member sought information about a particular project from the CEO of a local government through a series of emails and letters. In one of these letters, the council member stated “it is requested you furnish me a detailed printout
from the general/job ledger of this line item… or I will have no choice but to advise the Minister’s office of your failure to provide such a fundamentally simple report upon request”. In a subsequent letter, the council member
stated “is expected that you will prepare a suitable report… and if further funding is required… where the funds are coming from… please ensure this is presented to the next council meeting”.
The panel received a complaint alleging the letters from the council member constituted a breach of Regulation 20(2).
The council member did not deny the conduct and acknowledged that his letters had been sent in frustration.
The panel considered the matter and found that the relevant statements in the council member’s letters were in breach of Regulation 20(2). The panel was satisfied that the statement about making a report to the Minister constituted a threat
(as such a report could be detrimental to the CEO’s reputation) and that the council member made it with the intent of causing the CEO to provide the requested information. The panel was also satisfied that the statement requesting a report
for the next council meeting went beyond making a mere request for the specified report, and gave a direction to the CEO to prepare that report.
The sanction imposed by the panel on the council member was for a public apology to the CEO in specified terms.
The conditions required for Regulation 20(4) to be breached include:
The conduct occurred at a council or committee meeting or other organised event;
Members of the public were present when the conduct occurred and in a position to witness that conduct;
The council member was in attendance at the meeting or event in their capacity as a council member (that is, not as a private citizen or invited guest); and
The council member:
It is not the intent of Regulation 20(4) to deter or prevent the giving of appropriately phrased negative feedback.
Regulation 20(4) does not apply to conduct that contravenes Chapter XXXV of the Criminal Code Act Compilation Act 1913 (Criminal Defamation). This means that even if the above conditions are met, it is not considered a minor breach where a council member,
without lawful excuse:
makes a statement that they know to be false, or without having regard to whether it is true or false; and
in making that statement intends to cause serious harm to a person, or does not have regard to whether such harm is caused.
Such conduct should be reported to the Western Australian Police.
At a council meeting with members of the public present, a council member while addressing council, stated “[a named ratepayer] claims that the Health Inspector has been derelict in his duties”.
The panel received six complaints alleging this statement breached Regulation 20(4).
The council member denied the alleged breach but did not dispute making the statement.
Upon consideration of the matter, the panel found that the council member had committed a breach of Regulation 20(4) by making the relevant statement at the meeting. The panel was satisfied that the phrase ‘derelict in his duties’ was
insulting to the health inspector, and therefore offensive or objectionable and a breach of the Regulation.
The sanction imposed by the panel was for a public apology to the health inspector.
A council passed a motion proposed by a council member to receive a report on modifications he thought should be made to a recently-modified intersection. Council considered the officer’s report at a later meeting with members of the public
present, which recommended against further modification and provided a preliminary cost estimate of carrying out the suggested works. During debate the council member said the report was “at a pricing to stop the budget” and that its
costings were “exaggerated”.
The panel received two complaints alleging the council member had committed a breach of Regulation 20(4) in making those statements.
The council member denied the alleged breach. He admitted making the statements, but claimed his comments were observations about the information presented and not a statement (or implication) that the officer was incompetent or dishonest.
The panel found that the council member had committed a breach of Regulation 20(4) by making the comments.
The panel was satisfied that persons present would have been reasonably capable of identifying the officer as the person referred to by the council member, and that the comments implied that the officer was dishonest by deliberately including unnecessary
items and pricings to improperly inflate the total budget so that council would not approve it. The panel was of the view that any representation of fact or opinion is a ‘statement’.
The sanction imposed by the panel on the council member was for him to apologise publicly to the officer on specified terms.
The conditions required for Regulation 22 to be breached include:
Regulation 22 only applies to impartiality interests. If a council member is believed to have failed to declare a financial interest or proximity interest, this should be reported to the department as a Complaint of Serious Breach.
At a council meeting a council member participated in a vote about provision of funding to an incorporated association (Organisation 1), and whether this funding should be contingent on the organisation relocating to a new premises. The council member
was a member of the executive committee of another association (Organisation 2), which was one of four members of Organisation 1 and which leased premises to Organisation 1.
The panel received a complaint alleging the council member had committed a breach of Regulation 22 by failing to declare an impartiality interest in the matter.
The council member denied the alleged breach, asserting that the request was made by Organisation 1 (not Organisation 2) and he did not have an interest in that organisation.
The panel found that the council member had committed a breach of Regulation 22 by failing to disclose an impartiality interest in the matter.
In considering its finding, the panel was satisfied that the recommendation before the council relating to Organisation 1, if approved, would create a loss of benefit for Organisation 2. The council member’s membership of the executive committee
of Organisation 2 could therefore, or could be reasonably perceived to, adversely impact the council member’s impartiality when dealing with the matter. The panel was also satisfied that the nature of the interest was of impartiality (and
not a financial or proximity interest).
The sanction imposed by the panel on the council member was for the publication of a censure notice.
The council member appealed the panel’s decision. The SAT considered the case and affirmed that the council member had committed a breach of Regulation 22. The SAT was satisfied that the circumstances of the case (including that the council
member had not yet attended his first meeting of the executive committee of Organisation 2 at the time of the council meeting) meant that it was appropriate for the panel’s order of a public censure to be overturned, and made an order for
the council member to make a public apology in lieu of the panel’s original sanction decision.
The conditions required for Regulation 23 to be breached include:
The Department of Local Government, Sport and Cultural Industries provides this document voluntarily for informational purposes only, in line with the objects of the Freedom of Information Act 1992. The information is provided in good faith and is current at the time of publishing. Readers of this document should satisfy themselves concerning its application to their situation.
Do not submit enquiries with this form.