Priority reforms

On 27 June 2019, the Local Government Legislation Amendment Act 2019 was passed by Parliament.

On 27 June 2019, the Local Government Legislation Amendment Act 2019 was passed by Parliament.

This Act addresses the following key areas:

  • Elected member training;
  • The treatment of gifts;
  • A new code of conduct;
  • Changes to the Standards Panel;
  • Best practice standards for CEO recruitment, performance review and early termination; and
  • Greater transparency as more information will be made more easily accessible online.

The reforms that commence immediately include:

  • Introduction of universal training for candidates and council members; and
  • Greater access to information held by a local government.

Further information about the priority reforms are available in addition to the frequently asked questions below.

The following reforms are expected to be in place before the end of 2019:

  • Changes to public notice requirements; and
  • Gifts.

Furthermore, reforms that will come into effect in early 2020 include:

  • A new code of conduct; and
  • Best practice standards for CEO recruitment, performance review and early termination.

Universal training

Why is universal training being introduced?

  • Council members have a unique and challenging role.
  • They oversee multi-million dollar budgets and make difficult decisions that impact the well-being of communities.
  • Unlike board members they are not selected for the role based on their knowledge and experience, but on their leadership and willingness to contribute to the community.
  • Once elected, they are required to make decisions on matters as diverse as planning applications, budgeting, rates, support for community organisations, long term planning for the district and the recruitment of and employment relationship with the CEO.
  • They are also expected to understand and comply with meeting procedures, conflicts of interest and codes of conduct.
  • This reform is key to providing council members with the skills and knowledge to perform their role as leaders in their district.

What is included in the elected member training?

There are five foundational units that make up the course Council Member Essentials:

  • Understanding local government
  • Serving on council
  • Meeting procedures
  • Conflicts of Interest
  • Understanding of financial reports and budgets.

How long will it take a council member to complete the training?

  • The training is expected to take approximately 5 days over the course of a year.

Who will deliver the training?

The training providers will be:

 

  • Western Australian Local Government Association;
  • South Metropolitan TAFE; and
  • North Metropolitan TAFE.

Not all training modules will be available from all providers immediately, though it is expected that all providers will offer all five modules in face-to-face or online mode by February 2020. Individual training providers will release the modules when they have developed the material.

What will the elected member training cost?

  • Training providers should be contacted for the proposed schedule of fees.

Who will have to do the training?

  • Every council member will be expected to undertake the training within 12 months of being elected commencing from the October 2019 local government elections, unless an exemption applies.
  • The training is valid for five years so a council member will only be required to undertake the training at every second election.

What exemptions apply?

  • Council members will not have to undertake the course Council Member Essentials if, in the previous five years, they have passed
    •  the Council Member Essentials course, or
    • 52756WA — Diploma of Local Government (Elected member).
  • In addition, current council members who have passed the course titled LGASS00002 Elected Member Skill Set within the last 5 years prior to being elected and before 1 July 2019 will be exempt.

Can anyone do the training?

  • Yes. There will be no restriction on who can complete the training.
  • The unit on understanding financial statements and budgets may be of interest to ratepayers’ association members, for example.
  • A candidate may wish to complete the meeting procedures unit before being elected.

Will there be RPL for the training?

  • No, but certain exemptions will be available (refer to earlier question).

If a council member is an accountant, will they have to do the unit on ‘understanding financial reports and budgets’?

  • Yes, they still need to understand local government specific requirements.
  • They will, however, be able to do the online module which will enable them to complete it at their own pace and focus on the new material.

If I’m an existing council member why do I have to do the training?

  • Legislation and best practice changes overtime.
  • Repeating the training allows both for a refresh of the principles as well as updates on aspects that have changed.
  • By having self-paced training options available, continuing council members will be able to quickly refresh their understanding and focus on the changes.

How will community members know if their councillor has completed the training?

  • Local governments will be required to report annually on who has completed training and publish this on the local government’s website. The report will list each council member and the training each has completed in that financial year.  This will include both the Council Members Essentials course where applicable and continuing professional development in line with the local government’s policy.
  • Most council members value increasing their skills and knowledge in relation to this important role they undertake.
  • It is believed that community and peer pressure will ensure that all councillors will complete the training.

Continuing Professional Development (CPD)

What is this new CPD requirement?

  • Each council is now required to prepare an adopt a policy covering the continuing professional development of its council members.
  • The policy is to be published on the local government’s website.

What should be considered by the council when developing the policy?

  • The content of the policy will be determined by the council.
  • It should include developmental opportunities for each councillor and a statement of the extent of payment by the local government.
  • In deciding the content of the policy, council should consider:
    • the strategic direction of the local government,
    • skills gaps among the council as a whole, and
    • the needs of individual councillors.

     

How often should the policy be reviewed?

  • The policy must be reviewed after each ordinary election to take into account the needs and skill sets of the new councillors and can be reviewed more frequently.

Are there going to be any restrictions on who can deliver continuing professional development to councillors?

  • No, each council will decide what type of training is appropriate for their councillors.

 

Candidate induction

What is candidate induction?

  • This is a training module to assist people who are thinking of becoming a local government councillor.
  • Candidates need to understand both the role they will potentially be taking on and what laws affect the way they conduct their campaign.
  • Specifically, induction will cover:
    • Role of council and council members.
    • Election and campaigning rules (includes gifts and social media).

Who has to do candidate training?

  • Every person who wishes to be a candidate in the local government election in October 2019.
  • Every person who wishes to be a candidate in any other local government election.

How will the induction be delivered?

  • The module will be available online through the Department of Local Government, Sport and Cultural Industries’ website by the end of July 2019.

Is there an exam?

  • There are quizzes included to help your understanding of the material.
  • There is no test that you must pass.
  • The module is designed to help you make good decisions.

What if I don’t have access to the internet?

  • You will be able to visit your local library or local government offices to get access.

What is the cost?

  • The online induction module is free.

I have a disability. How accessible is the module?

Who has been involved in the development of the candidate induction? 

  • The Induction was developed by the Department of Local Government, Sport and Cultural Industries and incorporates examples from other States and Territories.
  • In terms of the induction content, input was sought and received from:
  • The Western Australian Electoral Commission (WAEC)
  • The Western Australian Local Government Association (WALGA)
  • Local Government Professional (LG Pro)
  • Current councillors

Does it apply to council members who are recontesting their seat?

  • Yes, it will serve as a refresher for them. Rules and expectations change.
  • While serving councillors already have experience in running campaigns, being reminded of the rules governing a campaign is always useful.

How will this be enforced?

  • Every person nominating for council is required to declare that they have completed the candidate induction at the time of nomination.
  • There are penalties for making false or misleading statements on the nomination form (a maximum penalty of a $5000 fine or 1 year imprisonment).

Will the list of people who have completed the induction package be published?

  • No, some of the people that complete the induction may choose not to be candidates.
  • Publication of their names would be an unwarranted invasion of their privacy.

Will returning officers be given access to the list of people who have completed the induction?

  • When completing the online induction, participants will be required to advise of the local government area for which they are intending to nominate.
  • The department will be able to provide a list to the returning officers for that district so that they can confirm that candidates have completed the induction.

Will local governments still be able to conduct their own induction sessions?

  • Yes, a local government can still provide their own district specific induction if they wish, and this is encouraged
  • This will supplement the online induction as it will be specific to the local government.

Who do I contact if I am having problems?

  • You can contact the Department of Local Government, Sport and Cultural Industries on 61 8 9492 9762 or actreview@dlgsc.wa.gov.au

Availability of information

Additional information on your council will now be available on your council’s website.

Why are these changes being made?

  • Through embracing contemporary ways to communicate, local governments will be able to better meet community expectations for accountability and transparency.
  • These changes will ensure information is more easily accessible for community members who cannot visit their local government office during working hours, including in remote locations.

Documents currently held by the local government which will need to publish on the local government’s website following the Bill’s Assent (July 2019)

  • Proposed and current local laws (consolidated copy);
  • Business plan for a major land transition or major trading undertaking;
  • Candidate profiles;
  • Policy for the temporary employment or appointment of CEO;
  • Policy for payments to employees in addition to their contract or an award;
  • Code of conduct for employees;
  • Gifts register;
  • Register of financial interests;
  • Register of complaints of minor breach compiled under section 5.121;
  • Map of the district (which includes ward boundaries);
  • Annual budget;
  • List of fees and charges under section 6.16;
  • Current plans for the future of the district made under section 5.56;
  • Confirmed council and committee meeting minutes;
  • Minutes of electors’ meetings;
  • Notice papers and agendas relating to council and committee meetings that have been tabled or produced by the local government and presented at a council or committee meeting;
  • Code of conduct for council and committee members;
  • Adverse findings of the Local Government Standards Panel or the State Administrative Tribunal; and
  • Objects and reasons for the imposition of differential rates.

Information not to be published online

  • Rate records;
  • Register of owner occupiers; and
  • Electoral rolls.

Documents currently held by the local government which will need to be publish on the local government’s website after regulations are gazetted

  • Unconfirmed council and committee meeting minutes;
  • Up-to-date schedule of meetings upcoming Council and committee meetings;
  • Adverse findings against current council member, employee or the local government by the following bodies:
    1. Local Government Standards Panel;
    2. Public Sector Commission;
    3. Corruption and Crime Commission; and
    4. State Administrative Tribunal.
  • All approved policy documents that govern an assessment of an application;
  • Any adopted Regional price preference policy.

Additional documents required to be available for inspection at the local government office after regulations are gazetted

  • Map of the district (which includes ward boundaries);
  • Adverse findings against current council member, employee or the local government by the following bodies:
    1. Local Government Standards Panel;
    2. Public Sector Commission;
    3. Corruption and Crime Commission; and
    4. State Administrative Tribunal.
  • All approved policy documents that govern an assessment of an application;
  • Council member’s attendance at council and committee meetings for which a sitting fee is paid (as published in most recent annual report — the requirement to publish this information in the annual report will be introduced when these regulations are gazetted); and
  • The total rewards package paid to the CEO (as published in most recent annual report — the requirement to publish this information in the annual report will be introduced when these regulations are gazetted).

Once prepared by the local government, the following documents will also need to be published on the local government’s website

  • Report on training completed by councillors of the local government;
  • Attendance at events policy; and
  • Continuing Professional Development policy (for council members).

There is are a number of references to an up-to-date version of a document to be available on the local government’s official website. What does the term ‘up-to-date’ mean?

  • This means that the CEO must post the document required to be online as soon as possible after the document has been updated.
  • It is expected that this will occur within 10 days.

How long will information be required to be on the local government’s website?

  • This will depend on the type of information.
  • Current information, such as the map of the district boundaries and fees and charges, will be required to remain on the website while they are current.

For information such as annual reports and minutes of meetings it is likely to be five years.

Implementation

What changes is the Local Government Legislation Amendment Act 2019 introducing?

Key reforms cover:

  • Elected member training
  • The treatment of gifts
  • A new code of conduct
  • Changes to the Standards Panel
  • Best practice standards for CEO recruitment, performance review and early termination
  • Greater transparency as more information will be made more easily accessible.

When will these changes come into effect?

  • Universal training (candidate induction, elected member training and continued professional development), the Standards Panel processes and the publication of material on the local government’s website come into effect immediately.
  • Regulations for:
    • New local and state-wide public notice
    • Additional transparency improvements
    • Gifts threshold, and
    • Other minor administrative matters.
    are expected to be gazetted within the coming months and will come into effect then.
  • Further consultation will take place on
    • Model standards for CEO recruitment, termination and performance management, and
    • Model codes of conduct
    and these are expected to come into effect in early 2020.

Standards panel

What changes are being made?

  • Key changes to the Local Government Standards Panel processes include:
    • Introducing the ability for the Panel to request mediation between parties;
    • Introducing powers to order the council member to reimburse the local government the cost of the panel proceedings for adverse findings, rather than these being borne by ratepayers;
    • A reduction in the period to lodge a complaint from two years to six months; and
    • Expansion of the confidentiality of complaints.
  • Improvements to local government reporting requirements include:
    • Publishing of council member censures on the local government’s official website; and
    • Publishing an up-to-date register of complaints on the local government’s official website outlining all complaints where the Standards Panel has found a minor breach.

Why is the time limit for lodging a minor breach complaint being reduced?

  • This is to provide greater natural justice to the person alleged to be in breach of a Rule of Conduct.
  • The Rules of Conduct deal with council member behaviour.
  • Complaints are considered by the Standards Panel on the basis of the documents and claims put before it. The council member accused is requested to provide a response to the allegation.
  • This can be very difficult if the alleged conduct occurred some time ago, particularly if this is the first time it has been brought to their attention.
  • If the conduct of a person is inappropriate, then a complaint should be made quickly so the behaviour can be addressed.
  • 92% of complaints between 2007 and 2015 were lodged within six months. 

Why is confidentiality being extended outside the election period?

  • The fact that a complaint has been lodged is being used by some complainants to make public statements which imply guilt and tarnishes the reputation of the council member.
  • This can encourage poorly evidenced complaints with little or no chance of success because the complainant’s goal is achieved through the adverse media exposure.
  • 22% of the complaints lodged in 2017/18 were found by the Standards Panel to be frivolous, trivial, vexatious, misconceived or without substance.
  • A person has a right to have an allegation dealt through due process.

To whom do the confidentiality provisions apply?

  • The person who makes a complaint;
  • the person against whom a complaint is made;
  • anyone who performs a function under the Local Government Act in respect of a complaint; and
  • anyone who becomes aware of any detail of a complaint knowing it to be relevant to the complaint.

What types of complaints are required to be kept confidential?

  • Allegations of
    • Minor breaches
    • Serious breaches and
    • Recurrent breaches.

What happens if someone does breach confidentiality?

  • It is an offence to breach confidentiality and a $5000 fine applies.

Doesn’t this go against the principle of greater transparency?

  • It was considered that the principle of natural justice should take precedence until a breach is found to have occurred.
  • There will be increased transparency of council members found to be breaching the Rules of Conduct as these breaches will be included in a register and published on the local government’s website.
  • The reasons for findings of breach are published on the Department of Local Government, Sport and Cultural Industries website.

What other changes are being made?

  • A new Code of Conduct, incorporating the Rules of Conduct, is being developed and should be released for comment in the next month.
  • The new Code of Conduct will apply to candidates of local government elections.

 

Page reviewed 11 July 2019