Put yourself forward: nominate for council

Information for candidates in Western Australian local government elections

Contents

  • Introduction: Local government in Western Australia
  • Section 1: Standing as a council member
  • Section 2: Voting and participating in local government including key dates for 2019
  • Section 3: Now you’re a council member

Introduction: Local government in Western Australia

Councils provide many services, programs and infrastructure for communities. The decisions about these and supporting policies are made by an elected group of councillors.

Becoming a councillor, mayor or president presents the opportunity to influence local directions and create long-term, positive outcomes within your community.

Being a councillor is a rewarding challenge — one which requires commitment, responsibility and accountability.

Many people in our local communities can provide strong and strategic leadership. Local government can perform at its peak and make informed decisions when communities are represented by a diverse group of leaders. Diversity comes in many forms including backgrounds, experiences, culture, age and gender.

If you want to be involved in the future of your community, and are willing to learn and participate, then you should explore what it takes to be a councillor and nominate for local government elections.

There are 137 individual local governments in Western Australia. Each council covers a defined geographic area, known as a district, that varies in size, population and environment. Despite these differences, all councils have the same general powers and responsibilities, and the discretion to choose many of the services they provide.

This information has been prepared to help you appreciate the role and responsibilities of a council member, understand the election process, and assist you in deciding whether to nominate.

Section 1: Standing as a councillor

Typically, local government councillors are everyday people who want to make a difference

The Western Australian Local Government Association (WALGA) and many local governments offer free information sessions for prospective candidates in the lead-up to the October elections. For more information, visit the WALGA website or contact your local government.

The department also has a series of fact sheets on various aspects on being a council member:

Who can become a council member?

Most people are eligible to vote in local government elections, and as such, also likely to be eligible to stand for a position on council.

You can nominate for a position on council regardless of qualifications, religion, race, gender, experience or profession. In fact, councils encourage nominations by people from diverse backgrounds to ensure that a wide range of views are represented.

In Western Australia, there are around 1200 councillors who are as diverse as the reasons that motivated them to stand for election.

Eligibility criteria

Anyone 18 years of age or older can stand for election as a council member (either mayor or councillor) if they are:

  • an Australian citizen (or a British subject prior to 26 January 1984); and
  • an elector for the district (and has lived in the district for at least 30 days).

You do not have to reside in a ward to stand for election for that ward.

Although you are not eligible if you:

  • are a State or Commonwealth parliamentarian
  • are insolvent as defined in the Corporations Act 2001 (Cth)
  • are disqualified from holding office by an order of the State Administrative Tribunal
  • are disqualified by a court for misapplying the funds of a local government
  • are a council member of another council
  • have been convicted of an indictable offence for which the penalty includes imprisonment for greater than five years
  • have been convicted of a serious local government offence in the previous 5 years or
  • have been convicted of a crime and currently serving a sentence of imprisonment.

There is no restriction on people with dual citizenship being elected to council.

If you have any doubts as to whether you are eligible, you should contact your local government or speak to the WA Electoral Commission. You can find more information on the WAEC website.

Why diversity is important

Communities are made up of people from different backgrounds with different needs and interests.

This includes people from groups that have historically had less input in council decisions, including:

  • Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people
  • people from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds
  • people with a disability
  • women, and
  • young people aged 18 years and over.

These groups are underrepresented as candidates and council members in Western Australia, and in other spheres of government elsewhere in Australia.

Increasing the diversity of people on councils to more closely mirror the communities they represent ensures that a wide range of views are heard, and:

  • supports sharing of different ideas, perspectives and beliefs;
  • enables consideration of different points of view; and
  • encourages robust discussion that can test ideas, bring about greater understanding of issues, and result in better decision making.

Do you have what it takes?

While there are no special qualifications or experience required to be on council, you should be passionate about your local community, willing to work as part of a team and keen to learn.

Leadership skills are fundamental to working effectively on council and influencing the future direction of the local community. However, it is important to understand that councillors do not make decisions on their own.

Decisions are only made by the council as a whole, which means you will be expected to work well with other councillors.

This doesn’t mean you have to agree on everything, rather be prepared to engage in respectful debate on issues and build effective, professional working relationships.

The following tables list some of the leadership qualities that may help you to be an effective council member.

Consider whether these are attributes you already possess or are willing to develop to serve your community.

Personal and interpersonal skills

Do you have the following skills? If not, are you willing to develop them?

Reading people and situations

Do you have the following skills? If not, are you willing to develop them?

Working with different people and organisations

Do you have the following skills? If not, are you willing to develop them?

Some of the other skills and knowledge that are useful for council members to have include:

Strategic thinking

Do you have the following skills? If not, are you willing to develop them?

Skills

Do you have the following skills? If not, are you willing to develop them?

If you are successful in becoming a councillor, a mandatory training program and ongoing professional development opportunities will help you to develop the skills and knowledge needed to operate effectively on council.

You won’t need to know everything from the start. However, it is important that you have a strong interest in your community and a commitment to learning in order to grow into the role of a council member.

Knowledge

Do you have the following skills? If not, are you willing to develop them?

The role of a councillor

Councillors serve the community by listening to residents and local businesses, representing their views on council.

You will work with council members to make strategic decisions about how the council will address the needs of the community. This will include setting objectives to meet local requirements, establishing priorities between competing demands, and deciding how resources should be raised and allocated.

Legislation and policies, together with the local government’s strategic community plans, provide the framework for the ongoing management and operation of the council.

Councillors do not get involved in the day to day running of the local government administration, which is the responsibility of the Chief Executive Officer (CEO).

Your role as a councillor will typically involve:

  • Taking part in discussions and decision making at council and committee meetings
  • Reading council agendas and business papers to prepare for meetings
  • Reviewing strategic plans, policies and budget information
  • Being available to discuss and advise community members on individual concerns and relay these through the appropriate channels
  • Participating in civic events such as citizenship ceremonies and awards
  • Representing council on other bodies and meetings
  • Visiting council facilities and liaising with the CEO on the progress of council projects
  • Providing leadership within your community.

To keep in touch with electors, your commitment as a councillor may involve:

  • Keeping yourself informed about current State and national issues that may affect the district
  • Attending meetings of local organisations
  • Taking part in a range of local activities
  • Meeting residents and businesses to understand their views
  • Monitoring local media to keep abreast of local news and issues.

Allowances and expenses

During your term on council, you are entitled to meeting attendance fees or an annual allowance (paid in lieu of meeting fees). This is not a salary.

The Salaries and Allowances Tribunal sets the fees or annual allowance payable to council members in bands. The band allocated to your local government is dependent on many factors including for example, the size and complexity of the local government.

In addition to this allowance, you are entitled to receive reimbursement for some expenses incurred in the course of your duties as a council member. These expenses are travel and child care to enable you to attend council or committee meetings and functions and rental of your telephone line.

Councils may also decide to reimburse other expenses such as telephone and internet costs incurred in the course of council duties. Your local government’s allowances policy will explain what expenses you will be able recover.

Ethical and legal issues

Council members are public officers, exercising powers, functions and duties on behalf of the community.

Council members are required to separate public interest from self-interest and to respect and uphold principles and laws designed to protect the public interest and to preserve public trust and confidence in government institutions.

If elected, you need to be ready and willing to meet the required standards of conduct including:

  • understanding and complying with laws that apply to the conduct of council members
  • acting honestly and only using your position as a council member for proper purposes
  • bringing an impartial and well-informed view to every council decision
  • declaring, and avoiding, making decisions on matters when your private interests, or those of your family, friends or associates conflict with the impartial exercise of your duties as a council member
  • publicly disclosing specified information about your personal, family, business and financial interests
  • submitting to public and official scrutiny of your conduct and decisions as a council member and reporting wrongdoing by others that relates to public office.

The Local Government Act 1995 sets out the general duties and code of conduct for members. It requires each council member, at or before the first meeting attended, to make a formal undertaking to carry out all duties conscientiously and to the best of their ability.

The community will often judge a local government according to the behaviour and public image of individual council members. It is essential that council members conduct themselves in a way that is appropriate for elected community representatives. You also need to behave respectfully towards fellow council members despite any personal, policy or political differences you may have.

You need to be impartial, aware of your role and not take things personally.

Nominate for council if you want to make a difference for the whole of community, not just one issue.

Meetings

Council meetings

One of the most important functions of a councillor is to attend and participate in the decision-making process at council meetings.

Council meetings are held at least once a month. If you are absent from three consecutive meetings without council’s permission, you are disqualified from office.

To contribute effectively to the decision-making process it is essential that you are prepared for meetings. Meeting papers and reports are often detailed so you will need to set aside sufficient preparation time before each meeting.

Whether you are a ward or a district councillor, you must assess the issues and make decisions in the best interests of your local government district as a whole – not just your ward.

Before you nominate for election, you should read recent agenda papers (available on your local governments website) and attend at least one council meeting (which are open to the public) to get an understanding of what is involved.

Committee meetings

Councils establish committees to assist with the wide range of activities and functions for which councils are responsible, and to increase opportunities for community input in policy development.

In addition to councillors, committees can include community or skills-based members appointed by the council.

While there are many rewards associated with community leadership, you will need to set aside sufficient preparation time before each meeting.

Agenda briefings/concept forums

Councils can also hold informal gatherings to allow for discussion, undertake planning, hold workshops or to encourage informal communication between councillors and staff. Where the informal gathering involves discussion of a matter that is, or is intended to be, part of a formal meeting of the council, wherever appropriate, the briefing session / forum should be open to members of the public.

These are not formal council meetings and no decisions can be made at them.

External meetings

Councillors may also be required to represent council on other bodies, for example, regional bodies, local organisations and school councils. This could also include representing local government at the state and national levels by involvement in the WA Local Government Association.

It is important that you consider your commitments carefully before deciding to run for election.

'My experience indicates that the best team to achieve what a community desires is where the mayor and chief executive officer understand their respective roles. This ensures that both support each other’s roles and the council team and community benefit from a whole team approach.' — CEO of a local government

Section 2: Voting and participating in local government

The Local Government Act 1995 and Local Government (Elections) Regulations 1997 set out the requirements for local government elections - how they are to be conducted, who can nominate, who can vote, and how the votes are to be counted.

In Western Australia, the majority of local governments contract the Western Australian Electoral Commission (WAEC) to run their elections. The WAEC appoints returning officers for the elections it conducts.

For elections conducted by the local government itself, the CEO of the local government is the returning officer unless other arrangements have been made.

The returning officer role is an independent role and is responsible for running the elections and ensuring they are conducted in accordance with the law.

Types of elections

There are two forms of elections held in local government — ordinary elections which are held on a regular two-year cycle, and extraordinary elections which are held when a position becomes vacant, for example, because a council member has resigned or is disqualified.

Local government elections are conducted by postal vote or as ‘in person’ elections. The returning officer posts out ballot papers to all electors, who cast their votes and post them back.

Periodic elections

Ordinary elections, for four-year terms of office, are held at two-year intervals in October, with voting at the next election closing on Saturday 19 October 2019.

Nominations open on Thursday 5 September 2019 and close at 4pm on Thursday 12 September 2019.

The deadline for close of nominations cannot be extended.

Voting closes at 6pm on Saturday 19 October 2019.

This means ballot papers must reach the Returning Officer by that time.

Extraordinary elections

Extraordinary elections are held if a vacancy occurs between ordinary elections (subject to a few exceptions), or an ordinary election fails for a reason such as the number of nominations received was less than the number of vacancies.

The election process

Eligibility to vote and nominate

You must be on the local government’s roll of electors to be eligible to vote and stand as a candidate in local government elections.

If you are already on the State electoral roll, then you are automatically on the electoral roll for the local government which matches your enrolment address.

However, if you are not on the State electoral roll or have moved to a new house you will need to enrol to vote or update your details prior to the close of rolls on Friday 30 August 2019.

For information about how to update your details, go to the WA Electoral Commission website.

If you own a property in a district but do not live there, or you operate a business, you may be eligible to enrol on the owner/occupier roll and vote in local government elections. For more information contact the local government in which you own land or operate a business.

Nominating as a candidate

To be able to nominate in a Western Australian local government election, you must complete the online candidate induction.

You will be asked to declare that you have done so when completing the nomination form. It is an offence to make false or misleading statements on the nomination form.

Voting

After voting closes, the scrutiny and count begins. More details are available in the nominations kit available from your local government.

2019 Local Government Elections

Key dates and activities of significance:

  • Electoral roll closes 5pm Friday 30 August 2019
  • Nominations open Thursday 5 September 2019
  • Nominations close 4pm Thursday 12 September 2019
  • Close of early voting for ‘in person’ elections 4pm Friday 18 Oct 2019
  • Election day Saturday 19 October 2019
  • Close of poll 6pm Saturday 19 October 2019

Section 3: Now you’re a council member

Once the election is finalised, the CEO will advise when the next council meeting will occur. The time between the end of the election and the first council meeting will vary from council to council. It may be almost straight away or could be as long as three weeks after.

You should prepare yourself by learning about:

  • the procedure for taking your place on your council
  • meeting procedures set down in your local government’s local law (Standing Orders or Meeting Procedures Local Law).

Induction

The CEO may arrange an orientation and induction process for newly elected councillors. This may include:

  • general information about local government and specific information on how your council operates
  • a tour of the local government area and facilities
  • information on the organisational and operational structure including an overview of each of the functions or departments
  • introduction to key staff members.

In the meantime, you may find it valuable to acquaint yourself with:

  • the Local Government Act 1995 and regulations
  • strategic management plan and other associated plans
  • policies and procedures
  • current year’s budget and budget proposals
  • most recent annual report.

Most of this information can be found on your local government’s website.

The local government’s website also provides a range of useful contextual information including policies, legislation, manuals, codes and guidelines.

If your council does not have a formal induction program, you could make a time to meet with the CEO and mayor / shire president.

Once you have been elected, you will be required to make a Declaration of Office before you are officially on the council. This is a formal declaration that you undertake to carry out your duties faithfully, honestly, with integrity and to the best of your ability. It is signed in the presence of an authorised person. This normally occurs at the first council meeting after the election.

Each council has its own procedure for this ceremony. If a speech is required, it is usually most appropriate to make a simple statement thanking your supporters and expressing your desire to contribute to the work of your council.

You must also complete a primary return of your financial and other interests within three months of the conclusion of the election, and an annual return (an update of changes to the primary return) each year. The CEO will brief you on the procedure as it applies to your council. For transparency and accountability purposes, your primary and annual returns will be accessible to the public via the local government’s website and will be available for public inspection at the local government’s office.

As councillors have no authority in relation to staff, you should ask about the procedures for lodging enquiries regarding local government works and services. You should also seek opportunities to meet your fellow councillors with whom you will be working  for the next few years.

Training and development

As part of recent reforms to the Local Government Act 1995, a universal training program for all council members has been introduced. The Council Member Essentials has been developed to better equip council members in undertaking their role. Following election, council members will be required to complete five modules of training within the first 12 months of being in office. 

It’s not about winning for yourself. It’s about looking at the bigger picture, taking stock of all the information and facts, seeking community input and finding commonality with others about what is the greatest benefit to the community.

Page reviewed 31 July 2019